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Chesterfield daycare provider charged after fire that killed toddler

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Posted at 4:00 PM, Dec 03, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-03 19:00:47-05

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.