Mom Charged After 2 Daughters Die in Fire

Officers hailed as heroes in rescue of two other siblings

The 29-year-old mother accused of  leaving her four children alone so she could watch a pool game with her boyfriend was charged with four felony counts of endangering the life of a child Tuesday after a blaze spread through her home -- leaving her two daughters dead early Monday. 
Erika Ramirez, 29, left the girls and their two siblings alone in a basement apartment in the 7200 block of South Troy, officials said. Police rescued the siblings, but the girls perished in the blaze.
The mother will appear in bond court Tuesday afternoon at 1 p.m. in the Cook County Criminal Courthouse, 2600 S. California, according to Cook County State’s Attorney’s office spokeswoman Tandra Simonton. 

In 2000, Ramirez pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of endangering the life of a child and was sentenced to a year of court supervision and was ordered into a parenting program, court records show.

Perla Gonzalez, 6, and Carla Gonzalez, 9, were trapped in the house and died in the blaze that started about 1 a.m. today.

Police officers rescued their brother Victor Ramirez, 11, and Esmeralda Gonzalez, 7. The children were pulled through a window to safety, authorities said.

Investigators suspect the fire started with an overloaded electrical outlet, but fire officials have not issued an official cause yet.

The fire may have started after one of the children plugged in a space heater, investigators said. Police are looking into whether one of the children contacted the mother on a phone to say the basement apartment was cold and the mother instructed them to use the space heater, sources said.

No smoke detectors were found in the basement apartment or on the first floor of the building. The law requires smoke detectors on every floor of a residence in Chicago.

When firefighters arrived on the scene, the blaze had already engulfed the basement and first floor, said fire department spokesman Larry Langford.

Perla and Carla Gonzalez were pronounced dead at Holy Cross Hospital at 2:05 a.m., according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.

Police said the 11-year-old brother and 7-year-old sister were rescued by police officers who pulled them out through a window.

Langford said a woman who is thought to be the mother of the children was outside when the fire department arrived on the scene. After two of the children were rescued, the woman told officers she had two daughters still inside the building, police said.

The two rescued children both suffered minor injuries from inhaling smoke. Neither suffered burns. They were taken to Holy Cross Hospital and University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital. One was in good condition and the other, who is asthmatic, was in serious condition.

The two were saved by police officers who heard a call over the radio about smoke coming out a window.

“They heard the call and came over. They just happened to be close enough to get down here before the fire department,” according to the officers’ boss, Chicago Lawn police Sgt. Steve Franko.

“These guys decided to jump into action. They took it upon themselves to get involved,’’ Franko said.

Chicago Lawn District Officer Karl Richardt opened a window and pulled two children from the home while Officer Adam Stark ripped down part of an iron gate in order to make sure they would be able to get the kids to safety, Franko said.

“He actually ripped the iron gate off its hinges,” Franko said of Stark.

Stark and Richardt handed the kids off to Chicago Lawn Officers Elliott Flagg and David Neberieza who took them from the gangway and into squad cars, according to Franko.

“I’m going to submit all four of them for life saving awards. Especially Karl — he did a fantastic job,’’ Franko said. “There would have been four children dead if not for these officers.”

The children who were trapped may have been hiding because they were found behind a lot of debris, according to Langford. They were found face down on the northwest corner of their bedroom area in the basement, police said.

“Kids tend to do that,” Langford said, mentioning that children are often found hiding in closets, under beds and behind items during fires. There were no problems with frozen fire hydrants.

The family was reportedly living in the basement of the home, which is owned by the godparent of one of the children. The arrangement was apparently a temporary one and the family was planning to move soon, police said.

Langford indicated that many winter fires are caused by space heaters that are placed too close to beds. Space heaters should always be kept at least three feet from flammables, including mattresses and bedclothes. Parents should try to avoid operating space heaters in children’s rooms, Langford said.

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