Chesterfield daycare provider charged after fire that killed toddler

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CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. – Authorities have charged a daycare operator after a fatal fire that took the life of a toddler.

Just before 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 21, firefighters and police responded to a fire at a residence in the 11700 block of Valerie Court.

A home daycare was in operation at the residence at the time of the fire. While searching the house a second time, firefighters located one-year-old Joseph M. Allen  in a room on the second floor. During the initial search he was not spotted.

Firefighters said the homeowner told them all the children were accounted for and outside. When visibility upstairs improved, a second search discovered Allen in a car seat carrier that was upside down.

Allen was transported to VCU Medical Center, where he later died.

Fire at in-home daycare on Valerie Court in Chesterfield (PHOTO: Chesterfield Fire and EMS)

Fire at in-home daycare on Valerie Court in Chesterfield (PHOTO: Chesterfield Fire and EMS)

Police obtained a warrant for Laurie F. Underwood, the daycare operator, for operating or engaging in the conduct of a child welfare agency without first obtaining a license. She was required to have one while operating a daycare with more than five children.

The charge is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Underwood, age 46, turned herself in to authorities.

The parents released a statement on the day of her arrest that said they were told she only watched five children, but that she actually had 10 children in her care.  They are calling for justice in the death of their son, and hope more charges are filed.

“The number of violations made by Ms. Underwood is staggering. She failed to obtain a license to operate a daycare in her home. She grossly misrepresented the number of children in her care, and went out of her way to keep this secret hidden from us. She did not have working smoke detectors or fire extinguishers in her home. She did not maintain a list of the children in her care. She did not get all of the children out of her house safely. She did not provide accurate information to emergency responders. Instead, she told firefighters en route to the fire that all children were out of the house and safe. Upon arrival at the scene, she again told firefighters that all children were out of the house and safe. This was not true." [Read the full statement from Matthew and Jacquelyn Allen here]

Underwood will appear in Chesterfield County General District Court on Jan. 6, 2015, at 8:30 a.m.

Chesterfield County Fire Marshals determined the fire was accidental and started in the garage as a result of ashes from a fire pit that were placed in a trash bag. The trash bag was set in the garage and sparked the fire.

CBS 6 reached out to David Clements, the lawyer representing Laurie Underwood, but has not heard back at time of publication. This story will be updated if a statement is issued. He has previously declined to speak with other reporters.

11 comments

  • Ron Melancon

    And to all the illegal in home day care providers this should be your wake up call. Stop putting profit over child safety shame on all that do and run these operations and to the neighbors that know this goes on shame in you also

    • HXBXTX

      Ron, this wasn’t a large corp. “…putting profit over child safety..”. You make it sound as if illegal in-home day cares are akin to a drug den or the Chicken Ranch (which happens to be a legal enterprise, but I digress…). We have all been brain-washed into thinking all businesses are motivated by greed and that unlicensed ones are the gluttonous greedy favorites of Satan himself .

      For-profit businesses are all motivated by profit otherwise there wouldn’t be a business–silly Marxists, they never could understand that. Typically, a for-profit business must have their customer’s interest at heart or else they will fail. No customers, no profits. So, this woman failed in the most miserable way and she will be forever ruined as a caretaker–as she should be!

      It would be just as easy to say shame on you, Ron, for assuming the facts. There is no evidence to support your claim that she was putting profits before safety. For all you know, which appears to be nothing, this woman could have been scraping by–there was no financial disclosure of how much she charged. Does that make it any more forgivable? No, of course not! Does that make it okay that she was unlicensed? No! What it does mean, is that an unlicensed business does not equal a greedy profit-pilfering business. It equals a poorly planned and unprofessional business likely to fail.

      This leads down a rabbit hole, but what was the parents’ motivation for leaving their child with this caretaker? Was it convenience? Location? Seemingly trust-worthy? Considered better than a big-business day care? OR, could it have been greed? Oh, how could I say something so callous? Honesty is rarely appreciated in these situations, but there is a question of what motivated parents to use this day care. Was she cheaper? Could there have been an element of lower cost clouding their decision? Oh! how dare I say that!!!

      A parent should consider their child’s safety first–that is, or should be, inherent of being a parent. So these parents say the woman only took care of five children. Can that be proved? Did they never look up to see if there was a license or bother to ask for proof-of-insurance? If she provided them false documentation, then the parents are blameless. If, however, they never asked or investigated then they share some blame too. They are grieving and most likely do blame themselves, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask difficult questions.

      We are not, as of yet, a police state. Until that time, I would hope neighbors would stay out of someone else’s business and at the very least shouldn’t have your shame heaped upon them, Ron. Since when did neighbors become morally obligated to report something that they could not be sure of?

      In the end none of this really matters to the life that was lost. This is a tragedy that could have been prevented by all parties involved. Your half-brained accusation of profits before safety is a poor attempt to explain what happened. It is emotionally charged and devoid of facts–Just thought you should know :-)

      If you would like to rail against something..try a lack of individual responsibility in our society. All things licensed, coded, decreed, and made into law will not encourage individual responsibility. In fact, it can be easily argued that the more laws and requirements we make the less personal responsibility we have. It is so much easier to blame a legal entity than to blame ourselves.

      That’s it for me, Ron. I hope no hard feelings…

  • laurie

    There are a lot of professional childcare providers who have been trained and have worked extremely hard to provide a professional as well as a safe environment for children. I don’t agree with you saying this person was a daycare provider because daycare providers are required to be licensed in my state as well as many other states. You should change this to say an unlicensed care giver because you are giving family daycare providers a bad name and that could cause you a lawsuit. By the way this is why parents need to stop putting their children in unlicensed childcare facilities. Tragedy for sure. This poor baby could have been saved because children are not allowed to be left in a carrier nor are they allowed to be on a different level in my state.

  • erin mullinix

    Please always state “illegal” childcare from title on!it is not mentioned until late in the article giving reputable licensed care a bad name. This person was not a “childcare provider” but someone illegally caring for children. Dissappointed

  • Russell

    How come the charge wasn’t involuntary MANSLAUGHTER a FELONY… this person if she was cognizant knew that she was OVER the LIMIT for the number of children in her care. There is no way she should be allowed to have a Misdemeanor charge, this is a ‘slap on the wrist’. Hope the parent go after the provider and her business civilly biut she really has no business in business. She should be BANNED from having anything to do with daycare anywhere in Virginia.. JMHO

  • Shawn

    Why is she only being charged for not having a license. She forgot the child was even in the house on the second floor and still in the carrier. She should not be allowed to ever watch children again. And come on, who puts ashes in a trash bag.

  • NP

    Clearly, she did not communicate with the parents that she was unlicensed and this is a problem. But I’m worried there’s going to be a ‘witchhunt’ for unlicensed childcare providers now and that would be an unfortunate side effect of this tragedy. I am well aware that my children’s in-home sitter is unlicensed and it doesn’t concern me in the least. I think the law should be amended to make it illegal to be unlicensed without notifying customers but not illegal to be unlicensed period.

    • kristi martin

      Does Your in home childcare provider have more than 5 kids in her care? If not, she isn’t doing anything illegal.

Comments are closed.