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5-year-old Pasco County boy set fatal fire, authorities say

PORT RICHEY — The house fire that killed 6-year-old Bryce Atkeson last month was started by his 5-year-old brother, who set a couch on fire with a cigarette lighter, authorities announced Monday.

The source of the Nov. 15 fire has been under investigation by Pasco sheriff's detectives, Pasco County Fire Rescue and the state Fire Marshal's Office.

While they released the cause of the fire, the case is not closed.

The Sheriff's Office is conducting a separate criminal investigation, which centers on whether there were "child supervisory issues" that led to the fire, said spokesman Kevin Doll.

He would not elaborate.

Bryce's mother, 25-year-old Danielle Hopkins, was one of two adults in the Holiday Hills Estates home when it erupted in flames about 11 p.m. Hopkins and Michael Hatalski, 26, escaped with the two younger children, Bradley Hatalski, 2, and Bryant Atkeson, 5.

Bryce was a first-grader at Gulf Highlands Elementary.

In May 2004, Hopkins' infant son, Blake, died less than a month after his birth.

Hopkins told authorities then that she had apparently fallen asleep with the baby on her chest and sometime during the night, the child rolled off her, struck his head on a night table and fell to the floor.

The Pasco Sheriff's Office determined the death was an accident.

Hopkins was charged with marijuana possession in 2002 and obtaining a controlled substance by fraud in October, records show.

Hatalski, the other adult in the house at the time of last month's fire, had been charged with driving under the influence in 2004 and aggravated battery in 2006 on Hopkins, who was pregnant at the time. He pleaded guilty of pushing Hopkins over a bed and onto the floor during an argument, records show.

At the time of the fire, Bryce's father, Jason Atkeson, was in prison on charges of selling oxycodone to an undercover officer. Atkeson was released Dec. 11, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

The Florida Department of Children and Families has no reports of abuse or neglect allegations involving Bryce, said spokeswoman Erin Gillespie.

Attempts to reach family members Monday were unsuccessful.

The call for the Nov. 15 fire at 10925 Bridleton Road came in at 11:15 p.m. and was under control 24 minutes later, fire rescue officials have said.

Doll said Bryce's body was found in a bedroom of the 816-square-foot home.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

5-year-old Pasco County boy set fatal fire, authorities say 12/28/09 [Last modified: Monday, December 28, 2009 10:20pm]
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