A 29-year-old Santa Barbara mother could be facing charges of child endangerment after she left her 2-year-old daughter unattended in a vehicle that caught fire Monday morning. The child suffered second- and third-degree burns to her face and and body and has been transferred to Grossman Burn Center in Sherman Oaks for treatment. The mother sustained minor burns. Authorities are calling the fire an accident and have not released any names.
According to Capt. Chris Mailes with the Santa Barbara City Fire Department, crews responded to the 1300 block of Santa Teresita Drive at around 10:50 a.m. to find a Dodge minivan completely engulfed in flames. The fire had spread to a nearby power pole and bushes, but firefighters were able to quickly contain the blaze.
Approximately 15 minutes later, the woman and her child emerged from a house at 1301 Santa Teresita Drive. They displayed obvious injuries, Mailes said, and an ambulance was called that rushed the two to the hospital. In a prepared media statement sent shortly after the incident, Mailes wrote, “At this point, there is conflicting information regarding how the injuries were sustained.” He explained the investigation had been turned over to the police.
In a conversation with The Santa Barbara Independent Monday afternoon, police spokesperson Sgt. Riley Harwood — noting the investigation is ongoing — said it appears the woman had left the child strapped in a car seat as she worked as a caretaker for an elderly resident in the foothill neighborhood. It’s not clear how long the girl was left unattended, but the fire was discovered only when the mother returned to the car.
Mailes said the fire started inside the van, but it’s not known what sparked it. Harwood noted there are vehicle and city codes that prohibit parents from leaving their children alone in cars, and there are separate penal codes that address child endangerment. He said no charges have been filed at this point.