Craig mother charged in son’s Christmas Eve fire death
The mother of the boy who died in a tragic Christmas Eve fire in Craig is potentially facing up to 12 years behind bars after prosecutors accused her of the criminally negligent death of her child, 3-year-old Lane Ernest Cullen.
According to arrest records, 26-year-old Vanessa Allison Jenkins, aka Vanessa Jenkins Day, was arrested Wednesday, April 3, on a charge of child abuse negligently causing death.
A 13-page redacted arrest warrant affidavit obtained by the Craig Press Thursday details the circumstances surrounding the fire, in which Jenkins found herself waking up on the couch to her home ablaze and her child screaming as the room he was in was engulfed in flames.
According to the affidavit, officers with the Craig Police Department responded to the 1900 block of Woodland Avenue about 10:30 a.m. Christmas Eve to find smoke and flames billowing from the home and a woman, later identified as Jenkins, “yelling that her child was still inside.”
At least three Craig officers were first on the scene and tried to enter the home, without success.
“After a few feet, we could not continue any farther into the residence due to flames and smoke,” the affidavit reads.
The officers quickly moved to the backyard, where they first broke through a fence, then a window, to see if the boy was in a back bedroom, but they were stopped by more heat and smoke.
“After breaking the windows, both heat and smoke poured out,” the affidavit reads. “I could not see through the smoke into the room. I could not hear anyone inside the residence.”
Police worked to confirm the boy was indeed still inside the home and soon tried again to enter the home from the front.
“I again entered the residence through the front door by crawling on the floor,” the affidavit reads. “After making it into the living room, I could see the whole bedroom the child was in and the hallway leading to the bedroom were both fully engulfed in flames. The flames were entering the living room. I was forced to exit the residence again.”
It was then officers decided further rescue attempts were too dangerous. The affidavit reads that firefighters “arrived on scene moments later.”
About 10:34 a.m., Craig Fire/Rescue began its fire control and rescue efforts, making way to the southeast bedroom, where the child was reportedly last seen. The affidavit stated that fire crews used water to extinguish the fire and a chainsaw to open a large hole into the room.
“Once fire rescue made this opening into the wall, they discovered the body of a (redacted) child between an interior wall and what they believed to be a mattress,” the affidavit reads. “This occurred at approximately 10:48 a.m.”
Two minutes later, Craig officers said they made a call to a fire investigator with the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, who responded and began assisting police in an investigation into the blaze after securing a search warrant for the Jenkins’ residence.
“(The fire investigator) believed the fire did originate within the southeast corner bedroom where (redacted) was found,” the affidavit reads.
Police said they then assisted the fire investigator in “a layered search,” wherein the team began filling buckets with materials found inside the bedroom and sifting through each, carefully looking for evidence.
As search crews sifted through the burned bedroom, police noticed no signs of an electrical fire, but found “a melted, but intact, BIC style lighter,” which the affidavit reads was found near the child’s body.
“This location would have been directly below where (redacted) was found by the rescue team,” the affidavit reads.
Police said an autopsy later showed high concentrations of carbon monoxide in the boy’s blood, suggesting he was alive when the fire started. His death was originally ruled as accidental.
Police turn to Jenkins
In the moments and days following the fire, the affidavit reads, police interviewed Jenkins and several of her family members, as well as witnesses who told police they were aware Jenkins’ boy had learned how to play with lighters whose safety devices had been removed.
“Vanessa told me that they would “pop (redacted) hand” if (redacted) ever tried because (redacted) knew how to flick them,” the affidavit reads. “Vanessa said that at (redacted) would watch and (redacted) was very smart and learned how to do it watching her.”
The affidavit stated that, on the day of the fire, Jenkins told police she was “asleep on the couch in the living room and was woken up by her (redacted) screaming.”
But in a second interview at the Public Safety Center, Jenkins told police she was awake, sitting on the couch, and ran into the smoke-filled room when she heard “two suffocating screams,” according to the affidavit, which also details other conflicting accounts Jenkins allegedly gave to friends and family concerning the events of that night.
Jenkins said she began crawling on her hands and chest in an attempt to get underneath the smoke and flames and reach her son. She offered proof of her injuries to police, though she refused transportation to the hospital.
“I saw no visible injuries or signs of any burns on her chest,” an investigator said. Friends and family interviewed also said they didn’t notice any visible burns on Jenkins in the moments and days following the fire.
Police said Jenkins admitted her son had used a lighter to set fire to a bed sheet on at least one occasion. The affidavit stated the child had also possibly set a mattress on fire a few weeks before the fire that claimed his life.
Judge sets bond
Jenkins appeared Thursday before Judge Sandra Gardner for an initial bond hearing. Prosecutors in the case wanted her bond set at $20,000, as her charge is a felony and involves the death of a child.
Jenkins appeared via video conference and could be seen sobbing quietly into her hands as the charge of criminal negligence in the death of her child were read aloud.
Jenkins’ public defender asked Gardner to set bond at $2,500, pointing out Jenkins has no criminal history of any kind and is not a flight risk, as her family and fiancé live and work in Craig.
Gardner set Jenkins’ bond at $10,000 and scheduled her next court appearance for 11 a.m. Tuesday, April 9. If Jenkins bonds out of jail, Gardner said she is to appear at 2 p.m. April 23.
Sasha Nelson and Jim Patterson contributed to this report. Contact Clay Thorp at 970-875-1795 or cthorp@CraigDailyPress.com.