Woman sues Walmart after vehicle fire in parking lot kills daughter

FRIDLEY, Minn. — A woman whose one daughter died and another was seriously injured in a vehicle fire in Minnesota is now suing Walmart, claiming that the retailer is responsible for the death and injuries.

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Essie McKenzie said in the lawsuit that Walmart does not monitor vehicles, including RVs, which are allowed to park in the stores’ lots overnight, creating a public nuisance that is negligent, KSTP reported.

The fire happened in August 2019, but McKenzie just recently filed the suit in June.

She is seeking more than $75,000 in damages in the five-count complaint that calls the permission that Walmart gives to allow overnight parking an “unregulated campground,” the Star Tribune reported.

McKenzie said a couple who was staying overnight in the parking lot used a camp stove that eventually set their van on fire and spread to neighboring vehicles, including McKenzie’s, killing her 6-year-old daughter and injuring her 9-year-old child. The couple had apparently put the stove away before it had completely cooled, then moved their vehicle closer to the store’s entrance and the man, Roberto Hipolito, went into the store, KSTP reported. Shortly after Hipolito went into the store, a passerby alerted his wife that their van had caught fire as she sat inside the vehicle.

McKenzie had pulled into the store to buy groceries after taking relatives to the airport. Her children were tired from the early-morning drive, so she shopped while they slept in the vehicle, KARE reported.

When McKenzie exited the store, she saw the fire and screamed to firefighters that her children were in the car. Firefighters pulled the girls from the vehicle and they were taken to a hospital in critical condition. Ty’rah White, 6, died the next day. Taraji White, 9, still has the physical and emotional scars from that day, the Star Tribune reported.

Walmart responded to the lawsuit, telling KSTP, “Our sympathies remain with the friends and family impacted by this tragic event three years ago. We plan to defend the company and will respond in court to the complaint as appropriate.”

Hipolito was charged with second-degree manslaughter, but he pleaded guilty to two counts of negligent fires. He served 48 days in jail after the two counts were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors, the Star Tribune reported.

A judge in 2020 also approved a $130,000 settlement in a civil case filed on Taraji’s behalf against Hipolito.