A Minnesota mother is suing Walmart after a parking lot fire burned her two daughters, killing one and permanently disfiguring the other.
Essie McKenzie, 33, was shopping at Walmart in Fridley, Minnesota, in 2019 when her daughters Ty’rah, 6, and Taraji, 9, were caught in a fire after Roberto Hipolito left a hot camp stove in his minivan next to the girls car .
McKenzie is now seeking at least $75,000 in damages against Walmart, blaming the company for its “well-known” policy of allowing people to camp in its parking lots but not policing them to ensure the safety of others, KARE reported 11.
“Walmart encouraged and permitted a dangerous condition on its property,” the lawsuit states. ‘[Walmart] has escalated this danger by failing to provide staff to oversee the appropriate use of its car park as a campsite.’
Essie McKenzie, 33, is demanding at least $75,000 from Walmart, accusing the company of failing to patrol campers in its parking lot after one left a hot stove in his minivan, causing a fire that spread to her car and her killed six-year-old asleep and scarred her nine-year-old
McKenzie was shopping at Walmart in Fridley, Minnesota in 2019 when she left her sleeping daughters in the car
Ty’rah (left. ) suffered a heart attack after first responders pulled her and her older sister from the burning vehicle. She was revived at the scene before dying at a nearby hospital. Taraji (right) suffered severe burns
The lawsuit accuses the company of its “well-known” policy of allowing people to camp in its parking lots but not policing them to ensure the safety of others. Pictured: Two charred vehicles are parked in the parking lot
Roberto Lino Hipolito, 72, pleaded guilty to two counts of negligent fire causing major bodily harm and settled a $130,000 lawsuit filed against him by McKenzie
According to investigators, Hipolito, 72, of Long Beach, Calif., was traveling with his wife in their 2005 Dodge Caravan and lived in the vehicle as they traveled across the country.
Hipolito had used a camp stove for breakfast on August 6, 2019, but didn’t wait for it to cool before stowing it in the minivan and parking it next to McKenzie, who left her sleeping daughters in the car after an early morning drive to the airport.
While the Hipolitos and McKenzie were in the store, the minivan caught fire, which eventually spread to the car where the girls were sleeping.
First responders rushed to the scene and were able to free the girls from the burning vehicle. Ty’rah suffered a heart attack and was revived at the scene before dying at a nearby hospital.
The lawsuit alleges that the surviving Taraji suffered burns that will leave physical and emotional scars on her for life.
Investigators determined that Hipolito had used a camp stove for breakfast on August 6, 2019, but did not wait for it to cool before storing it in the minivan, which caused the fire
The flames spread to McKenzie’s car on the left side where the two girls were sleeping
First responders rushed to the scene and were able to free the girls from the burning vehicle
The wrongful death lawsuit says Walmart maintained “dangerous conditions” at the store’s premises by failing to monitor the Hipolitos who were in the parking lot overnight.
“These unregulated, unlicensed and unpatrolled campgrounds pose threats of disease, injury, noise and crime to a significant number of members of the public,” the lawsuit states.
In a statement in response to the lawsuit, Walmart said, “Our condolences go out to the friends and family who were affected by this tragic event three years ago. We plan to defend the company and will respond to the complaint in court if necessary.’
McKenzie, pictured with her children, told the lawsuit that Walmart was maintaining “dangerous conditions” by not monitoring the hipolitos who were in the parking lot overnight.
She said her surviving daughter faced lifelong trauma after watching her sister die
The family had previously settled $130,000 in a civil lawsuit against Hipolito
The lawsuit comes two years after McKenzie settled $130,000 in a civil suit against Hipolito.
Although initially charged with manslaughter, Hipolito pleaded guilty to two counts of involuntary fire with aggravated assault and was sentenced in 2020 to 120 months in prison and three years’ probation.
The more serious charge of second-degree manslaughter was dropped given Hipolito’s advanced age and lack of a criminal record.
Assistant District Attorney Wade Kish, the prosecutor, said the McKenzie family had no objection to the decision and was satisfied with the conviction.
During the sentencing hearing, McKenzie recounted not only the physical harm Taraji had suffered, but also the mental anguish.
“She watched her six-year-old sister lose everything in the palm of her hand,” McKenzie said.
Hipolito accepted his guilt in the fatal fire, telling the court, “I wish that had never happened and I wish there was something I could do to fix it, but there’s nothing I can do.”