FRIDLEY, Minn. — The Anoka County Attorney's Office has charged a man in connection to a van fire that killed a 6-year-old girl and left a 9-year-old girl in critical condition.
Roberto Lino Hipolito has been charged with one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of negligent fire, officials said.
Fridley Police spokesman Lt. Jim Mork says dispatchers received a 911 call around 7:15 a.m. from the parking lot of the store at 8450 University Avenue. The investigation indicates that one van caught fire, and the flames quickly spread to a second van with two young girls trapped inside.
Officers learned from surveillance footage and witnesses that a Dodge Caravan with North Carolina plates had been the initial vehicle to start on fire, and that the fire started in the rear of the van. Initial investigation suggests the fire may have been caused by a cookstove that was recovered from the scene.
Hipolito told police he and his wife had parked in the lot and slept overnight in the van. He said they then moved the van to another spot and went in the store. When asked about the cookstove he stated he had not used it for several days, then later clarified and stated he had used it the previous night.
Surveillance video just prior to the fire, shows Hipolito placing the stove on the pavement by the rear of the vehicle and using the stove to cook something, police said. After cooking, Hipolito puts the stove in the rear of the vehicle, and then he moves the vehicle closer to the store entrance. Hipolito can be seen going to the store and approximately two minutes later, a passerby tells his wife that the rear of the vehicle is on fire. She then gets out and tries to remove belongings but the fire spreads within 30 seconds of the rear door being opened, police said.
Withing minutes, the vehicles on each side of the van are also on fire, including the one from which the two children were removed.
Six-year-old Ty'rah White has died, Hennepin County Medical Center confirmed Wednesday with permission from the mother.
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Nine-year-old Taraji White remains in critical condition, according to HCMC
Mork says both children suffered significant burns and injuries due to smoke inhalation. The Anoka County Sheriff's Office says the owner of the van where the fire started has been arrested on suspicion of "negligent fires" based on an interview and on physical evidence.
"The fire was very intense, an awful lot of smoke and flames, there were windows exploding and even parts from inside the vehicle that were shooting outside, as far as 30 or 40 feet from the vehicle," Mork shared.
Investigators believe the mother of the children was inside shopping for 45 minutes to an hour, and left the girls alone in the van, Mork says. At this point it is uncertain if she will face criminal charges, but he says the main concern is with the girls.
"It's terrible. You fall back on your training and do everything you can to help the situation," Mork said. "Most of our officers are parents so automatically your thoughts go to your own children."
A third vehicle parked next to the vans also suffered significant fire damage, and two others showed damage from the heat of the fire.