A Pierce County woman, whose South Hill home burned the day before her baby daughter died, pleaded not guilty to first-degree arson and presenting false insurance claims on Friday, the same day authorities revealed they are investigating her daughter’s death.
Melinda Sayers, 37, allegedly lit a candle in her living room and opened the valve on an oxygen tank for her 11-month-old daughter, Abigail, before calling 911 to report the resulting explosion and fire, according to the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office. Abigail, who was born three months premature, was scheduled to go home from Seattle Children’s hospital the next day.
Sayers started the fire because she didn’t want her daughter to come home, charging documents say.
Her financial gain — from a crowdfunding website and an insurance company — is under investigation, the Prosecutor’s Office said Friday, and the Seattle Police Department is assisting the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department in investigating Abigail’s death, spokeswoman Renee Witt said.
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Sayers told authorities on April 1 that she threw her 2-year-old son, Eli, out their home’s ground-floor window after she saw smoke inside. She jumped out after him before an explosion, which at first was thought to have been caused by a leak in the oxygen tank. Sayers initially told detectives she didn’t know how the fire started.
Abigail, who was scheduled to be discharged from Children’s on April 2, suffered seizures that night and was returned to the intensive-care unit, where she died. Sayers spoke to several media outlets, who dubbed her “Supermom” for saving her son and coping with her daughter’s death.
Fire investigators determined her story about the fire didn’t match the evidence, which included a handheld butane lighter found on the living-room couch, according to a probable-cause affidavit. Sayers called 911 and said there was a fire alarm going off because of a fire in the living room; however, fire investigators noted it wouldn’t have been possible to see any portion of the living room from the bedroom.
Detectives interviewed Sayers on Thursday and concluded they had enough evidence for an arrest, according to the Sheriff’s Department. She was booked into the Pierce County Corrections Center on Thursday afternoon.
After the fire and Abigail’s death, a page was created on a crowdfunding website for the Sayers family. It raised $32,000 to replace the family’s belongings and help with funeral costs. Wanda O’Dell, who created it, wrote on the page Thursday that she is “horrified by the events” and was working with the crowdfunding site to refund contributions to those who want their money back. O’Dell noted, however, that Sayers’ husband and children had been “victimized again from all of this.”
The family also received from an insurance company a cash advance of $5,000 toward the loss of their home’s contents and to help with temporary housing.
Sayers remains in custody in lieu of $200,000 bail. A jury trial is scheduled for June 17.
Paige Cornwell: 206-464-2530 or firstname.lastname@example.org