Woman acquitted after East Liberty french fry fire

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An East Liberty woman accused of drinking and causing a fire that left her daughter critically injured was found not guilty Thursday on all counts.

Ukayla Tarver, 25, was "relieved" by the verdict, said her attorney, Randall McKinney.

Pittsburgh police charged Ms. Tarver with causing a catastrophe, criminal mischief, reckless endangerment, endangering the welfare of a child and dangerous burning after a July 24, 2012, fire in her Rippey Street apartment.

Arson detective Michael Burns wrote in a criminal complaint that he smelled alcohol on Ms. Tarver's breath when he approached her the morning of the fire.

She told him that she had cooked french fries on the stove in her first-floor apartment and the "last thing she remembered was putting the fries in the pot of oil," according to the complaint.

When she awoke on the living room floor, police said, the kitchen was on fire.

Firefighters rescued Ms. Tarver's daughter, Ta'Nyiah Benjamin, then 3, who has since made a full recovery, Mr. McKinney said.

Ms. Tarver cried as the jury foreman read the verdict before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Kevin Sasinoski on Thursday afternoon.

The judge told her, "Go home and be a good mother to your daughter."

Mr. McKinney said, "I'm ecstatic for Ms. Tarver. I am, however, disappointed that these charges were ever filed in the first place. This was an accident plain and simple. ... There was absolutely no proof that Ms. Tarver's actions were reckless."

Detective Burns and a spokesman for the Allegheny County district attorney's office declined to comment.

Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil.

First Published December 19, 2013 1:22 PM

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