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Woman sentenced to jail after child dies in Chesterfield in-house daycare fire

Posted at 8:12 AM, Mar 03, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-03 19:07:17-05

UPDATE: Laurie Underwood entered  a guilty plea and was sentenced to 12 months in jail. She will serve eight months of that sentence because the judge suspended four months  of her sentence. Upon her release, Underwood would not be allowed to care for children for three years. 

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Four months after a one-year-old boy died in a fire at an in-home daycare, the owner of the daycare is scheduled to go before a judge. Laurie Underwood, 46, was charged with operating the daycare out of her Valerie Court home without a license. The charge is a  Class 1 misdemeanor. CBS 6 legal analyst Todd Stone said he expected the judge to focus on Underwood's negligence.

"Judges usually focus more on the level of negligence. It is not about the value of the child's life, you can't capture that with 12 months in jail.  It's really more about her level of negligence and her failure to get the license," Stone said.

Just before 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 21, 2014, 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 firefighters did not see Allen. Firefighters said Underwood told them all the children were accounted for and outside before they made their initial search. When visibility upstairs improved, Allen was found during a second search. He was in a car seat carrier that was upside down. Allen was transported to VCU Medical Center, where he later died.

Joseph Allen with his parents.

Joseph Allen with his parents.

"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," Joseph's parents Matthew and Jacquelyn Allen said in a statement following the announcement of Underwood's charge. "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."

The fire and Allen's death was at the root of a new law passed by the Virginia General Assembly. The law, passed last week, required all daycare providers to go through extensive background checks and requires all daycare providers caring for five or more children to be registered and licensed with the state.