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Third child dies from injuries in fire

November 18, 1999|By JULIE E. GREENE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A third child who was injured in a fire early Saturday morning on East Liberty Street died Thursday morning, according to a spokeswoman for Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

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Brandi Howard, 3, was pronounced dead at 10:25 a.m., according to the hospital.

She was the last of three small siblings injured in the fire to die.

Her older brother, Mason, 4, died early Wednesday. Brandi's twin brother, Corey, died at the hospital late Saturday.

All three had been taken to the hospital with smoke inhalation and complications from the heat of the fire, Martinsburg Fire Department officials have said.

Brandi was taken off of life support on Wednesday, said Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely.

Investigators were still trying to determine Thursday whether the 2:43 a.m. fire at 211 E. Liberty St. was intentionally set, Games-Neely said.

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"The problem in this case is it's a terrible, terrible tragedy. ... I don't know if we have a crime or not," Games-Neely said.

Games-Neely said she has added more investigators to the case, both at the fire scene and at the forensics lab.

Martinsburg City Police, the state fire marshal, other fire officials and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are involved in the investigation, she said.

The children's mother, Sara Howard, 37, escaped injury from the fire by climbing onto a roof where she screamed for someone to help her three young children.

The children's father, Michael Howard, was at work in Frederick, Md., when the fire broke out, Martinsburg Fire Department officials have said.

The fire began on the first floor where it was contained, but the heat and smoke reached the second floor where firefighters found the three children, fire officials have said.

A smoke detector on the second floor of the house contained no batteries, Fire Capt. David Brining has said.

On Thursday the front door of the two-story gray house had been boarded up and yellow tape remained wrapped around the front porch.

The gate on the side of the house was standing open, leaving in plain view toys scattered in the back yard.

On June 1 Howard was charged with child neglect after Brandi, then 2, was found in the 800 block of Winchester Avenue, playing near the street and wearing only a diaper, according to records in Berkeley County Magistrate Court. At that time the family lived at 735 Winchester Ave.

After that incident authorities tried to remove the three young children from their mother's custody, Games-Neely said. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources denied their request, she said.

Officials with the Department of Health and Human Resources would not comment.

Neighbors have said Howard made an effort to keep the children either in the yard or in the house.

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