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5-year-old McKeesport fatal fire suspect can't be charged because of age

| Saturday, March 29, 2014, 1:46 a.m.

The 5-year-old boy who allegedly started the house fire in McKeesport late Sunday night that killed his 2-year-old cousin cannot be charged with any crime, according to a statement released Friday by the office of Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.

“Under the Pennsylvania Juvenile Code, any child younger than 7 who may be suspected of criminal activity is treated as a dependency case rather than a criminal case,” district attorney spokesman Mike Manko said.

A juvenile dependency case is one in which a crime may have been the result of abuse or neglect in the home.

Officials said two adult sisters lived in the rental property along Soles Street with four of their children but one of the sisters — the mother of 2-year-old Ayanna Brooks, who died in the blaze — was in Florida with an infant. The boy accused of starting the fire is the son of Ayanna's aunt.

Authorities believe he started the blaze while playing with a lighter on a couch on the first floor of the home. Zappala said during a visit to the site on Thursday that the boy could not be charged with homicide because he is under the age of 10, but originally said he believed the child could be charged with arson. Zappala added that there has been indication the boy may have a history of setting fires.

Investigators have been searching for evidence of any smoke alarms in the house owned by Kevin Kamenski of Butler-based Steel City Realty, which manages mostly Section 8 properties in the Mon Valley and other locations.

Zappala said on Thursday that investigators had yet to find any evidence of alarms in the charred remains of the building, and neighbors and firefighters told authorities the scene was “eerily silent” during the fire, which may indicate a lack of functioning smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

“Our office has not been told conclusively that there were no alarms,” Manko said. “(We are) in the process of securing the most recent inspection paperwork regarding that structure, which may help investigators determine if a smoke alarm was present.”

One of the children in the house reportedly suffered head burns and two firefighters sustained minor injuries while battling the blaze. The boy who started the fire is being evaluated by the Office of Children, Youth and Families.

Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1970, or tkaran@tribweb.com.

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