CYFD takes custody of young children injured in house fire

June 3, 2018 GMT

Two young children who were left alone in the living room of a Cerro Gordo Road apartment where a fire ignited earlier this week remain in critical but stable condition at the Denver Children’s Hospital, authorities say.

The 3-year-old boy and 13-month-old girl are now in the custody of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department.

A criminal complaint charging their mother, 22-year-old Maria Salazar, with two counts of child abuse says she told police she had left them asleep on a couch while she took a walk late Tuesday night. The couch caught fire around 11:15 p.m., says the document, filed Thursday in the Santa Fe County Magistrate Court by Santa Fe police Detective Erik Ramirez.

Staff at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center told police the little girl had burns over 40 percent of her body and severe smoke inhalation, both life-threatening injuries, Ramirez wrote in the complaint. The boy also had signs of severe smoke inhalation. Both were airlifted to the Denver hospital for treatment.

A neighbor on Cerro Gordo, Leandra Daniels, told The New Mexican on Wednesday that she had rushed into the home and grabbed the two children — who were covered in soot — as soon as she heard from a neighbor there might be a fire. A mother of young children herself, Daniels knew the toddlers lived there, she said, and seemed to be acting on instinct.

Sgt. Chris McCord of the Santa Fe Police Department’s Arson Team determined the high-temperature blaze in the living room, which burned much of the left side of the couch, was “man-made,” meaning it was not caused by faulty electrical wiring, the criminal complaint says.

The fire was so hot, McCord said, that it “melted light fixtures and window blinds inside other rooms” where the flames had not yet spread. Because of the damage, he said, the team was unable to determine the exact cause of the fire.

Assistant Chief Paul Babcock of the Santa Fe Fire Department told The New Mexican on Thursday that he had no new information on the fire investigation. He referred questions to Fire Marshal Rey Gonzales Jr., who did not return a call seeking comment.

Salazar told officers she wasn’t sure how the fire started, according to the complaint. She said she had gone out to get some air and was messaging people on her cellphone when it started. She returned to her apartment, a unit in a Santa Fe Civic Housing Authority complex, after 15 or 20 minutes, she said — just in time to grab her daughter while a neighbor was pulling her son out of the home.

Another neighbor, Michelle Martinez, gave officers a different account of the events. She told police she saw Salazar talking with a man in a car parked in a nearby lot while Daniels ran into the burning housing unit and rescued both children.

“Salazar was sitting in the sedan during the time Ms. Daniels was carrying the children to the paramedics,” Martinez said in the report.

Daniels also told officers she had pulled both children out of the home, and that she had to kick in the front door to get in. Salazar did not show up at the scene until about five minutes later, she added.

Firefighters arrived shortly after and extinguished the blaze.

Daniels rode to the hospital in the ambulance with the children and Salazar, she told The New Mexican.

According to the criminal complaint, officers interviewed both Salazar and the children’s father, Carlos Garcia, at the police station that night. Salazar repeatedly admitted to police she had been negligent in leaving the children alone and apologized for her actions, the complaint says.

Garcia had left the home the night before the fire, Salazar said, and she had been home alone with the children since then.

The complaint doesn’t provide any statements from Garcia.

Santa Fe police spokesman Greg Gurulé said no charges have been filed against Garcia, whose age was unavailable. “That decision hasn’t been made yet,” Gurulé said.

According to online records, Salazar was released from the Santa Fe County jail Thursday afternoon.