April 11, 2014

Pratt mom charged in fire that killed boys; concerns reported earlier, aunt says

The mother of 23-month-old twin boys who died in a Pratt house fire on Dec. 23 has been charged with two counts of aggravated endangering a child – one count for each boy, a prosecutor said Friday.

The mother of 23-month-old twin boys who died in a Pratt house fire on Dec. 23 has been charged with two counts of aggravated endangering a child – one count for each boy, a prosecutor said Friday.

Their aunt told The Eagle that she reported concerns about the boys’ welfare and conditions in the home months before the fire.

The state agency that investigates reports of child abuse and neglect says it visited the home in July 2013 and found it “to be clean and the children well cared for.”

The boys’ 24-year-old mother, Destry Ibarra, was arrested Thursday, booked into jail and released on a $15,000 bond, said Pratt County Attorney Ken Van Blaricum.

A joint investigation by Pratt police and state fire investigators is continuing, Van Blaricum said. Fire investigators have already determined that the fire resulted from careless cooking methods that caused a grease fire in the kitchen.

It’s likely that Ibarra will have a first appearance in court Wednesday.

Ibarra couldn’t be reached for comment Friday morning; in the past, she wouldn’t comment.

The twins, Jayce and Jasper Ibarra, died in the fire. Firefighters found their mother on the porch roof. The boys’ father, Ramon Ibarra, was away at the time of the fire.

Months before the fire, the boys’ paternal aunt, Sara Lopez, said she anonymously reported concerns about the twins’ welfare to a state child abuse and neglect hot line. Lopez said she told the hot line that someone needed to check on two children at the boys’ address on High Street.

Lopez said her concerns about the boys included a filthy, foul-smelling house, severe diaper rash, a lack of utilities and a possible lack of nutrition.

Lopez said she learned that at least one other person called the hot line about the boys.

Eventually, Lopez said, her brother, Ramon Ibarra, told her that someone from the state had checked on the boys during one visit.

Ramon Ibarra couldn’t be reached for comment.

Lopez said the boys should have been removed from their home before the fire.

“The system failed,” said Lopez, 42, of Pratt.

Lopez said she was speaking out in the hope that it could help prevent another tragedy.

Theresa Freed, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, said in a statement that the agency had “multiple contacts with the family since 2011. Following a report, DCF visited the home in July 2013, and found the home to be clean and the children well cared for. The father was interviewed at that time. He expressed no concerns about the mother’s ability to care for the children. Services were offered to the family. They were declined. DCF received no additional reports about the family.”

Referring to the fire, Freed said, “This is a horrific tragedy and our hearts go out to anyone affected by the death of a child.”

For the first part of the boys’ lives, Lopez said, the twins seemed to be kept clean. Destry Ibarra dressed them up to look alike. “She was a good mom,” Lopez said. “She would have patience with them. She would be loving.”

Then, Lopez said, “you could see a drastic change” in the boys’ appearance.

Lopez said the small house had become filthy by around early 2013, nearly a year before the fire. The house smelled of dirty diapers. Lopez said her mother would go over to the house to clean up.

The boys had diaper rashes, and sometimes Lopez would go over to change their diapers, she said.

Because of the rashes, she said, “They were screaming when I was changing them.”

Mosquito bites covered their bodies, Lopez said.

The couple’s house, in the 600 block of South High Street, was a small fixer-upper owned by Ramon Ibarra’s parents and built around 1900. Ramon Ibarra told an Eagle reporter the day after the fire that he had just gotten his sons a twin bed. They slept on it for the first time the night before the fire. On the day of the fire, he had been putting down trim when he left for the store and to gas up a vehicle, he said. He returned to find his wife outside their home and his sons still inside.

Fire investigators have already determined that the fire was accidental and resulted from “careless and improper cooking methods causing a grease fire in the kitchen,” according to a state report obtained by The Eagle in February through an open-records request.

The report, compiled by the Office of the State Fire Marshal, said that although fire investigators have closed their portion of the investigation, Pratt police had an ongoing investigation that would be presented to the county attorney to determine if criminal charges should be filed.

According to the fire marshal’s report, the first firefighter to arrive at the burning house that afternoon saw the twins’ mother on the porch roof and black smoke spewing from a second-floor window where she was perched. She appeared to be covered in black soot and “was yelling that her babies were inside and she needed to get them out,” the report said.

Autopsies found that the boys had thermal injuries to their skin and visible soot in the airways, the report said. “Jayce Ibarra had a CO level of 84% with Jasper Ibarra having a CO level of 88%.” The CO (carbon monoxide) level is a byproduct of burning materials.

Destry Ibarra was taken to a hospital in Pratt and transferred to a Wichita hospital. “No burns were noted; medical staff stated her CO level was 3%,” the report said.

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