An East Liberty mother was drunk when she left a pot of french fries unattended on a stove top, sparking a fire that left her young daughter critically injured, Pittsburgh police said Thursday.
Police charged Ukayla Tarver, 24, with causing or risking a catastrophe, criminal mischief, recklessly endangering another person, arson and endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the July 24 fire at an apartment building on Rippey Street in East Liberty.
Tarver had a blood alcohol content of .106 percent the night of the fire, according to a criminal complaint filed against her. Investigators could smell alcohol on her breath as she explained she remembered putting the fries in a pot of oil on the stove, then waking in the living room and seeing the kitchen on fire, the complaint said.
Tarver told police she had to break out of the front living room window to escape the fire and couldn’t reach her daughter, Ta-Nyiah Benjamin, 2.
Neighbors tried to break into a back window to get to the girl, but the intense heat and smoke forced them back.
Ta-Nyiah wasn’t breathing when firefighters rescued her, but she was breathing on her own when paramedics took her to UPMC Mercy Uptown. She suffered burns to her feet, legs and a badly damaged respiratory tract.
Battalion Fire Chief David Smiley was one of the first firefighters to reach Ta-Nyiah in her back bedroom and pulled her from the home.
“We were able to locate her quickly by sweeping the floor with our hands and the captain felt her unconscious inside one of the rooms,” Smiley said. “This is our job, it’s what we do every day and we’re grateful there was a positive outcome. We hope she fully recovers.”
Doctors transferred her to Shriners Hospital for Children in Cincinnati, where she remained for over a month. She has since been released, but faced a long road of treatment for her burns and the damage to her lungs.
Channel 11's news exchange partners at TribLIVE contributed to this report.