Thursday, February 21, 2002
Man to take family back to Mexico
Children left alone before fire
By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LEBANON A father who left his toddlers home alone before a blaze swept through their Lebanon apartment was expected to return to his native Mexico with his family, after pleading guilty to reduced charges.
In an unscheduled hearing Feb. 13, Refugio Martinez Lara faced with deportation because he was here illegally entered no-contest pleas to misdemeanor child-endangering charges.
Judge Neal Bronson, of Warren County Common Pleas Court, sentenced Mr. Lara to the 10 days he had already spent in jail.
Assistant Prosecutor Joanne Hash said Wednesday that Mr. Lara's attorney, Mark Clark, offered to have his client plead to the initial charges one misdemeanor and one felony child-endangering charge to resolve the case so the Laras could leave the country.
But prosecutors then reduced the second charge to a misdemeanor after Mr. Clark pointed out that the evidence did not support a felony charge, Mrs. Hash said.
In order to prove our case, we had to prove serious physical harm to the boy, Mrs. Hash said.
The toddlers Aracely, 2, and her 3-year-old brother, Mario suffered smoke inhalation, but had carbon monoxide levels below what is considered life-threatening.
An initial high carbon-monoxide reading on the boy, which was the basis for the felony charge, was later determined to be wrong, Mrs. Hash said.
My opinion is that it ought to be a felony when you leave kids alone and something happens. It was not a life-threatening situation only because police got there so fast, and Woody Pounders got there. Otherwise, they would have died, she said. But that's not the way the law is written, and we have to follow the law.
Aracely and Mario were unconscious when Lebanon Detective Don McKinney and Mr. Pounders, a neighbor, crawled last Nov. 8 through thick black smoke in the three-unit building to rescue them.
Police said that Mr. Lara, 26, had left the children unattended at the East Silver Street residence so he could report to Lebanon Plastics, a West Street company where he and his wife, Maria, worked alternating shifts.
The children were released from Children's Hospital a day after the electrical fire.
Mr. Clark could not be reached Wednesday. Mrs. Hash said Mr. Clark told her the Lara family would leave the United States voluntarily because authorities were seeking deportation. They expected to arrive in Mexico this week, she said.
For Detective McKinney, the outcome of the court case seemed fair. I've seen the kids since, and they seemed fine, the detective said.
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