Friday, December 15, 2017
Public safety

Report details November fire that killed Pasco twins

MOON LAKE — Shannon Garza said the twins started the fire.

She had set up 3-year-old twins Micah and Miah to watch a DVD that Nov. 12 morning while she washed a sinkful of dishes. Then after 10 to 15 minutes, she later told deputies, she noticed her children were "unusually quiet" and went to check on them.

They weren't in Miah's room, where the DVD was playing. No sign of them in Micah's room, either. Then she found them in her own bedroom, standing next to her queen-sized bed.

Between them, a small flame flickered on a corner of the mattress.

Garza, 30, said she thought the children set the fire with a torch lighter from her purse, according to a Pasco County Sheriff's Office report obtained by the Times, providing the first detailed account of the fire that claimed both toddlers' lives.

Investigators later reported finding the remains of a lighter in the bedroom. They also found a crack pipe.

• • •

Garza told deputies she grabbed a can of Coke off the night stand to douse the flame, but it didn't work. She ordered the twins out of the room, but it's unclear if they left. To keep the fire from spreading, she pulled the mattress on its side — flame near the ceiling — and tried to shove it out of the house. But the mattress lodged in the doorway leading outside.

The flames spread to the door frame.

Garza said she pushed the mattress to the side and ran through the door so she could pull from the other side. The mattress blocking the doorway began to melt. She could see its exposed springs. The house filled with black smoke while she screamed for help.

She found a crowbar in her yard and tried to pull the skeleton of the mattress through the back door, but she wasn't strong enough. She ran around to the front door, but it was locked. She used the crowbar to smash out a window and call for the twins, but she got no response.

Garza told neighbor Jason Puckett that her children were still inside. He kicked in the front door and ran inside. The heat chased him back out. Garza grabbed a garden hose and sprayed it into the home.

More neighbors, a deputy and firefighters arrived.

"My babies are inside!" she screamed.

Smoke rolled from windows. Flames swallowed the home at 10633 Wabayo St. It was too late.

Investigators went into the shell of the home later that day and found the two tiny bodies.

Both were in the back bedroom where the fire started. The body of Miah, who liked teddy bears and the color pink, was in the center of the room, face down. The body of Micah, who loved eating watermelon and watching the Disney Channel, was at the back of a closet.

The medical examiner determined both toddlers died of smoke inhalation.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office has said little while investigating the case for the past two months. The preliminary report detailing deputies' findings does not indicate whether Garza might face any charges.

• • •

A Times reporter contacted Garza this week at the Zephyrhills home where she has been staying. Holding a cellphone to her ear, she declined to comment.

But she spoke at length with deputies who investigated the fire. On the day of the blaze, a deputy interviewed Garza at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, where she was treated for burns to her right hand.

The deputy wrote in his report that Garza "appeared to be under the influence of some sort of substance," slurring her words and forming incomplete sentences. Her boyfriend, Lonnie Stafford, who also lived at the home, was arrested twice in 2009 on charges of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. He was referred to drug court.

Other reports show the family had prior contact with the Department of Children and Families. Pasco deputies responded to a battery call in June 2010 involving Garza and the twins' father, Michael Shaver. The responding deputy, who found the battery complaint unfounded, wrote in his report that Micah and Miah were "walking around wearing no shoes or clothing, only very dirty diapers," their faces "completely covered with dirt, mucous, food and other residue from the child's hair line to lower chin, ear to ear."

The twins' appearance didn't warrant a call to child services, the report states, but the deputy "felt it did need to be documented."

DCF spokeswoman Terri Durdaller said the agency has "had an extensive history with this family." She could not release detailed records, however, unless authorities determine the children died from abuse or neglect.

Shaver said he last spoke with Garza in the hospital after the fire. He wants to know more.

"I want justice for my two children," he wrote to the Times. "I want answers on why my twins met this fate. There are so many questions I'm sure the public is wondering as well as I am."

At the end of Wabayo Street on Tuesday afternoon, an orange mesh barrier and "No Trespassing" signs guarded an empty lot. Behind them sat a barren patch of dust and stacks of cinder blocks that used to hold a home where two smiling, giggling toddlers once played.

Alex Orlando can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.

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