by: Kevin McCarty Updated:PUYALLUP, Wash. —
Melinda Sayers walked into court wearing a suicide prevention gown and weeping as she spotted friends and family members in the courtroom.
The 37-year-old South Hill woman had been hailed as a super mom after a fire at her home. She claimed she rescued her 2-year-old son from the flames by dropping him from a window onto bushes outside. According to charges, it was all an elaborate fraud for insurance money and to gain sympathy for an online fundraising campaign.
Pierce County arson investigators said Sayers used a slow burning candle and an oxygen tank to set the April 1 blaze. According to a probable cause affidavit they doubted her story about a spontaneous eruption of flames and the boy’s rescue because of inconsistencies in her explanation and evidence that contradicted her account of the fire.
Sayers’ and her husband were piling up huge medical bills because of prolonged and severe health problems with their 11-month-old daughter. After the fire she filed for insurance benefits and began an online fundraising campaign that raised $32,000 to help the family with expenses. She could face additional charges because of that campaign.
“We’re investigating theft by deception because she set up a social media page under fraudulent premises”, said Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist.
Sayers asked to be released from the Pierce County jail after pleading not guilty to charges of arson and insurance fraud on Friday. Her attorney Don Winskil told court commissioner Megan Foley Sayers wanted to attend the funeral of her daughter who died in a Seattle hospital two days after the fire at the family’s home. Foley refused, setting bail at $200,000.
Winskil said Sayers has received threats online after news of her arrest broke on Thursday. And she was placed on suicide watch after making statements about taking her own life because of the accusations.
“She’s not doing very well,” said Winskill. “She’s crying, she’s upset. She’s disappointed of course that she can’t be at her daughter’s funeral.”