PORT RICHEY — Authorities have still not released the cause of a fire that killed a 6-year-old boy more than a month ago, but the Pasco County Sheriff's Office has classified the matter as a criminal investigation.
"Whether or not any criminal charges come out of this remains to be seen," said Kevin Doll, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office.
On the night of Nov. 15, a fire erupted at a house at 10925 Bridleton Road in Holiday Hills Estates, just east of U.S. 19. Two adults and three children were inside the 816-square-foot home.
Bryce Atkeson, a first-grader at Gulf Highlands Elementary, died. The adults in the home — Michael Hatalski, 26, and Bryce's mother, Danielle Hopkins, 25 — were hospitalized. Doll said Hatalski suffered second-degree burns and Hopkins had minor injuries.
Two other children — Bradley Hatalski, 2, and Bryant Atkeson, 5 — were not injured, Doll said.
The fire call came in at 11:15 p.m. and was under control 24 minutes later, said Assistant Chief Mike Ciccarello of Pasco County Fire Rescue.
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.
Ciccarello said the state investigation into the cause of the fire is done.
"The Sheriff's Office has not finished their interviews," he said, explaining why the cause of the fire has not been released.
Usually, these findings are released days after a fire. It's been four weeks. Doll called the case an "active criminal investigation."
"There were circumstances that night that made us prolong the investigation," Doll said. "We are not commenting on what those circumstances were."
Ciccarello said he believes the fire's cause will be released soon.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.