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Parents call for justice after son’s death at Chesterfield daycare fire

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CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- The parents of a one-year-old child who died in an October fire at his babysitter's home released a statement in which they shared their concerns about things they learned after their son's death.

Jacqueline and Matt Allen said they hoped the misdemeanor charges filed against babysitter Laurie Underwood were just the beginning of more charges to come.

Matt, Jacqueline and Joseph Allen

Matt, Jacqueline and Joseph Allen

Underwood was charged with running a child welfare agency without obtaining a license. This after a bag of hot ashes caused Underwood’s Midlothian home to go up in flames on October 21. One-year-old Joseph Allen was left inside the home and died.

In a statement titled "Justice for Joseph," the Allens lashed out at the woman who took care of their son.

"We thought we found a safe place, but we were misled from day one," their statement read.  "Ms. Underwood assured us she only watched five children. This was not true. We now know she kept up to 10 children at her home."

The Allens went on to say, "The number of violations made by Ms. Underwood is staggering: she did not have working smoke detectors or fire extinguishers in her home; she did not maintain a list of children in her care and she did not get all of the children out of her home safely."

Joseph Allen

Joseph Allen

Joseph Allen was discovered by firefighters during a second sweep after they had been told everyone was out. The little boy, all of 24 pounds, was found still strapped in a car seat that had been flipped over on the floor.

"The thought of our little boy breathing in flames and toxic fumes for almost an hour while buckled into an overturned infant car seat is too horrific to even contemplate," their statement continued.

They added they only learned of the fire from news report  and when Joseph’s father arrived on the scene no one could tell him where Joseph was or if he was okay. He detailed showing up at the hospital to discover those helping the boy did not know his identity. The father had to describe Joseph to doctors before he was allowed to see his dying boy.

The Allens’ attorney, by phone Wednesday night, said they will have more in the coming days, but right now the Allens are still processing these developments and grieving the tremendous and tragic loss of their baby boy.

The daycare provider, has been charged with a class one misdemeanor, operating or engaging in the conduct of a child welfare agency without first obtaining a license.

She surrendered to police and will be in court on Jan. 6, 2015, at 8:30 a.m., in Chesterfield County General District Court.

josephe

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.

STATEMENT

We are Matthew and Jacquelyn Allen. Joseph Matthew Allen was our only child. We are devastated by his tragic death and want to share what we know about the fire that occurred on October 21, 2014 and changed our lives forever.

Joseph was a healthy, active and vibrant one year old boy who was always on the move. For the past ten months Joseph attended daycare eight hours per day, five days per week, with Laurie Underwood at her home in Midlothian. Like all new working parents, we wanted to find good daycare for Joseph. We thought that we found a safe place, but we were misled from day one. Ms. Underwood assured us that she only watched five children. This was not true. We now know that she kept up to ten children at her home.

On October 21, 2014, Joseph arrived at Ms. Underwood’s home around 7:30 a.m. He was always one of the first children to arrive. On this day we later learned Ms. Underwood had eight children in her sole care, six of whom were under the age of two.

Some time that same morning, and for some unknown reason, Ms. Underwood put ashes from a backyard fire pit into a bag and placed it in her garage. These smoldering ashes then started the fire that cost our son his life.

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.

Most troubling of all is that Joseph, a 24 pound one-year old boy who had been walking for months, inexplicably had been strapped into another child’s infant carrier and left alone in the master bedroom on the second floor of the burning home. It was only after a second sweep of the home that firefighters found the infant carrier upside down with Joseph still buckled in. We can’t even imagine why Joseph was strapped into another child’s infant car seat at noon. Joseph did not nap at noon and certainly not in an infant car seat. The thought of our little boy breathing in flames and toxic fumes for almost an hour while buckled into an overturned infant car seat is too horrific to even contemplate.

At no time did Ms. Underwood ever call us or Joseph’s emergency contact to report the fire. We learned about the fire from news reports. When Joseph’s dad arrived at the scene no one could tell him where Joseph was or if he was okay. Joseph’s grandfather, the emergency contact, lived just minutes away from Ms. Underwood’s home. If Ms. Underwood had called Joseph’s grandfather, he could have arrived at the scene promptly and told firefighters that Joseph was not out of the house.

Because Ms. Underwood did not maintain a list of children in her care and was nowhere to be found after the fire, no one at the scene could identify Joseph. He was admitted to St. Francis Hospital and VCU Medical Center as “Mr. XC”. We had to first describe our little boy before being allowed to see him because he was not admitted under his own name.

Joseph died on October 22, 2014 because of Ms. Underwood’s criminal actions. Ms. Underwood has not called us to offer her condolences on the death of our only child. We are so grateful for the work of the Chesterfield emergency responders, and thankful that the Chesterfield Commonwealth Attorney’s Office has decided to criminally charge Ms. Underwood for operating a daycare without a license, a Class 1 misdemeanor, but we are hopeful that more serious charges may follow based on her recklessness and gross violations of the laws put in place to protect young children.

Joseph no longer has a voice of his own, so we are seeking Justice for Joseph so this does not happen to yet another child and family.

December 3, 2014

Matthew and Jacquelyn Allen

19 comments

  • Alana

    How did this lady have time to remove the ashes from the backyard if the kids came at 7:30? Why did she put the baby upstairs to “sleep”? N why is that little charge the only thing she is facing right now? I have a one year old boy and I can’t imagine losing my baby, my prayers go to the family

  • Teresa Herrington

    Matthew and Jacquelyn Allen:

    First, I must express my sympathy for your loss. I look at his picture and wish I had the opportunity to love him as much as you.

    I just received a call from CBS 6 to appear on news to voice my opinion regarding the decision of Chesterfield Commonwealth Attorney’s Office to charge Ms. Underwood’s with only a misdemeanor charge for operating without a license. I have appeared twice on CBS 6 News regarding in home daycares, once regarding changes in square foot requirements by the County and after the tragic death of your son. Both times they could not get any licensed providers to speak out and view their daycares.

    I declined to be the voice of a child care provider, open myself, home, family, & children to again put my daycare on display. I have only done this in the past to educate parents and provide them a visual of a proper, safe, and loving child care. However, I received back lash from providers and people because I choose to operate without a license. CBS 6 can use previous footage to show my day care and safety devices and practices in place to provide a safe environment for the kids.

    After, my previous appearance on the news and my comments about it being the parents responsibility to insure that their child is in proper care, I was disappointed and felt I was thrown under the bus by CBS 6. Further, as an Epiphany member, you are part of my family. I just felt that your family was unfairly burdened by my statements. Please know that my comments were edited. I feel CBS 6 wanted to air a story about unlicensed providers and that was the problem. However, no licensed provider would let them in their homes. My statement came after a lengthy conversation about licensed vs, unlicensed, DSS Regulations, Licensing, And Compliance, and local ordinances to insure the safety of kids. Since none of the previous systems provide adequate guarantees to protect families and children, I came out with the only part of the equation that will protect the kids, the parents.

    I want to reach out to you and let you know that I will do anything for you to be you little boy’s voice. It sickens me what has happened to him. I am not qualified to be a legal expert on what laws she violated and the penalties in place to prevent this from happening again. However, as a mother, child care provider there is NO reason for a one yr old boy to be strapped in another child car seat an in an upstairs bedroom. Further, he is there five days per week and she can’t remember him. I care for five kids and would never have that many 2 yr olds and your infant. There is absolutely no way to provide a safe and loving environment. I would love to be a voice for your son. I know how long time it takes to change a diaper, give a bottle, knowledge of the typical one yr old schedule as wells as under 12 mos, 18 mos, 2, 3, & 4 yr olds.

    I can’t imagine your loss and pain. However, I am here for you in any way that I can.

    We need to prevent this from happening again and educate parents.
    Teresa Herrington

  • Lindsey

    Why didn’t anyone (parents who had their children at the daycare) ask to see her license before they started taking their kids there? Isn’t that important??

  • E Tom

    This is a tragedy that should never have happened. My heart breaks for this family! This should be a wake-up call to anyone who has a child in a home daycare type situation. Cover all your bases. Check out the whole house, including the upstairs. Know where your child will be at ALL times. Most of all, show up unannounced. Leaving our children is hard enough, but knowing they are in good hands can help. Don’t settle for anything less for your babies!

    • Lestiana

      This is so heartbreaking. Unfortunately this is the SECOND child to die in this woman’s care. There was another death in 1993.

  • Cyndi

    I first want to say that my heart goes out to these parents, I know what it is like to loose a child and the whole it leaves in your heart….. With that being said I have to ask why the parents are not carrying their fair share of the burden here? They are ultimately the ones responsible for keeping their child safe. They made a choice to go with an unregulated, un licensed care provider. They didn’t ask the right questions, they didn’t “pop-in”. They went with cheaper. I’m not saying there choice was wrong or right, I’m just saying they are the ones who didn’t do the work to get the info and keep him safe….Being cheaper means she has to take on more kids to pay the bills. It was a horrible accident. The things you are NOW asking about are things you look for in a regulated center, not in a home of a neighbor keeping a few kids. It sounds like the parents are now projecting their anger at themselves onto the care provider. ……remember YOU picked her….. without her having these things, and you didn’t care if she did..

  • athynz

    My condolences to the Allen family. There needs to be more charges brought against this woman – the lack of fire extinguishers and smoke detectors is just the tip of the iceberg. At the same time I do have to agree with Cyndi in that the parents had a responsibility as well to check the place out – make unscheduled visits, talk with other parents that use her, to make sure the place was a safe as possible. And before some troll bleats about victim blaming – no, it’s not placing blame it’s simply reiterating that this tragedy is a wake up call for those who use unlicensed day care providers and are unlicensed day care providers. The blame for the death of this toddler rests squarely on Laurie Underwood and that is something she is going to have to carry the rest of her life.

    • ashleyedahl

      Wow. How dare both of you. 1. It is not necessarily cheaper to go with a home daycare. 2 Being a 1st time parent, let alone a working parent who has to leave their child with someone else for the majority of the day, is a lot of pressure. You do not need a lisence to have less than 5 kids…which is what she told them. 3. You can’t make unscheduled visits when you work full time to support your family. 4. The parnets did everything they could to make sure their son was safe.

      Having a daycare lisence hanging on the wall would not have stopped the fire from happening. The daycare provider’s lack of caring and bad business wouldn’t have changed. She still probably would have kept the illegal amount of kids (only 2 under 2 and up to 8 max at a time). The point is, the peice of paper changes nothing. She was neglectful, dangerous, and abusive. The parents are definitely feeling the guilt, but it does not come down to they “didn’t do their homework.”

      • athynz

        How dare I? Because I can.

        “Wow. How dare both of you. 1. It is not necessarily cheaper to go with a home daycare.”

        That depends.

        “2 Being a 1st time parent, let alone a working parent who has to leave their child with someone else for the majority of the day, is a lot of pressure.”

        You say that like no one else has been a first time parent. I have a daughter who is now 22 and I still recall the days when she was in daycare and I recall the pressure and the second guessing my wife and I both went through with the decision to send our daughter to daycare.

        “You do not need a lisence to have less than 5 kids…which is what she told them.”

        That is not in dispute. What is the issue is the fact that this woman had more than 5 kids, no license, not working life-safety equipment, and the toddler was strapped in a car seat.

        “3. You can’t make unscheduled visits when you work full time to support your family.”

        Yes you can. I’ve done it as has my wife and we were both working full time… at that time I also worked a second job so don’t get on your high horse and try to tell me such unscheduled visits cannot be done.

        “4. The parnets did everything they could to make sure their son was safe.”

        Evidently not if they did not make unscheduled appearances. Does that make them bad parents? That’s not up to me to decide.

        “Having a daycare lisence hanging on the wall would not have stopped the fire from happening. The daycare provider’s lack of caring and bad business wouldn’t have changed. She still probably would have kept the illegal amount of kids (only 2 under 2 and up to 8 max at a time). The point is, the peice of paper changes nothing.”

        In and of itself no – however along with that piece of paper are inspections of the facility by the county and here would have been some oversight in place to prevent her from not having working life safety equipment. Nor would she have been able to keep the illegal amount of kids die to that same oversight.

        “She was neglectful, dangerous, and abusive.”

        Agreed.

        ” The parents are definitely feeling the guilt, but it does not come down to they “didn’t do their homework.””

        Not entirely it does not. I honestly cannot imagine what they are feeling right now and my heart does go out to them however there are some things that could have been done to prevent this. That is the point. Of course it’s far easier to put me on blast than loo at this objectively isn’t it?

      • David

        Ashley, if you have followed this sites comment section for any time then you understand that serial posters like athynz and manalishi are much too simple to debate. Trying to do so is a waste of time. It is a shame that they ruin discourse for everyone.

      • athynz

        “DAVID
        Ashley, if you have followed this sites comment section for any time then you understand that serial posters like athynz and manalishi are much too simple to debate. Trying to do so is a waste of time. It is a shame that they ruin discourse for everyone.”

        This is amusing David – you of all people try to claim that someone is too simple to debate when all you do is sling insults. Let’s take a look at one of your latest gems:

        “DAVID
        What a hypocritical piece of work you are athynz. Go somewhere and die.”

        Yes, that is certainly an intelligent and enlightened comment and not simple or common at all. Certainly not at all a comment that would ruin discourse for everyone. In fact your notion of discourse seems to be the following:


        DAVID
        The nasty little athynz hobbit is presumptuous and arrogant. He needs to slither back into his hobbit hole.”

        “DAVID
        athynz, you are just plain stupid.”

        “DAVID
        So you fancy yourself as a fighter, a human pit bull. That’s a big stretch for a loud mouth fat little hobbit. You are a dumb animal, but that is as far as the analogy goes.”

        “DAVID
        Your comments are meant for attention, not comprehension. You are the only one that uses the term “Messiah”. I detest ignorance and self aggrandizement. You are the epitome of ignorance and self aggrandizement hobbit fat athynz. You are simply too stupid to understand what a POS you are. I am very tempted to stoop to your level and hurt you badly for my own enjoyment.”

  • Annette

    I send my deepest sympathies for your son Joseph. This is the most painful thing a parent could go through. My prayer will go for Mr.and Mrs. Allen.
    Ms. Underwoods should pay for lying and lighting up a cigarette instead of going outside. I believe that you will have the justice so that this won’t happen to any other parents, this will be a wake up call to the parents to be extra careful for your children..

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