Local News

Officials To Discuss Future Of Woman Whose Children Died In Fire

Posted July 20, 2003

— Fire officials, state investigators and social workers will discuss this week the future of Mary Alice Turner, the mother of five children and grandmother of one who died in a mobile home fire in Onslow County.

Those discussions will include the disposition of old charges in Johnston County and the possibility of new charges stemming from the July 9 fire, which injured four of Turner's children.

Social workers are looking ahead to where those four children will go when they leave the hospital.

The children are at UNC Hospitals, where two are improving. But two sisters remain critically ill with smoke-scarred lungs.

Turner got her first opportunity Friday and Saturday to visit her four children.

After her own hospitalization with injuries from the Onslow County fire, she was jailed July 14 on check forgery charges in Sampson County.

Jailers escorted her to the funeral of five children and an infant granddaughter Wednesday, and she was freed on bond that evening.

Sharetha Oates, 8, and Anthony Oates, 7, were breathing on their own and sitting up in bed by Friday. Their sisters, Lauren Turner, 9, and Latasha "Bunny" Oates, 6, were still sedated and dependent on respirators.

"Anthony and Sharetha can talk a bit," said their father, Jesse L. Oates of Mount Olive, who has spent much of the time since the fire at the N.C. Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals. "They're doing pretty well, and they tried to walk a little bit yesterday.

I want the other two to get well so I can feel better about them, too."

The four children did not receive burns to their skin. But all suffered serious lung damage.

"Lauren and Latasha remain extremely, critically ill," said Bruce A. Cairns, associate director of the burn unit and director of the burn intensive-care unit.

"It has required that we use the most sophisticated care that we're able to provide," Cairns said. "We've used a number of different ventilator strategies with around-the-clock respiratory therapy care and nursing care. They're still very ill, but they're more stable than they've been.

Cairns said "a whole host of folks" are working with the family to help Turner and Oates plan for the children's future care.

Turner and Oates lived together for about 11 years until she moved away, with the children, about two years ago, family members said.

Onslow County District Attorney G. Dewey Hudson said Turner could face charges of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the fire.

Hudson's assistants met with Onslow sheriff's investigators Thursday, and Hudson planned to discuss the case Monday with fire and SBI investigators.

He said he would consider any evidence of parental neglect.

"As far as I know, she may be the best mother in the world, but you have to look at that," Hudson said.

Johnston County school officials and Turner's former landlord in Selma have said they were contacted by social workers asking about Turner's children before the family moved to Onslow County in February.

Johnston and Wayne county social services officials, citing confidentiality concerns, declined last week to release information from their files on Turner and her children.

Turner was living under an assumed name with her 10 children and granddaughter when the fire swept through their single-wide home in a mobile home park near Jacksonville just after 1 a.m. July 9.

An 11-year-old son said he started the fire accidentally while playing with a lighted candle. He was not seriously injured.

Family members said Turner had been hiding there since February from forgery and worthless check charges against her in Johnston and Sampson counties. She has not been served yet with the Johnston County warrants.

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