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Published: Wednesday, 10/19/2005

Woman pleads no contest in fire that killed 7 children

Melinda Ragland Melinda Ragland

A South Toledo woman whose six children and a niece were killed last year in an apartment fire after she left them alone for several minutes entered a no-contest plea today in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

Melinda Ragland, 26, pleaded no contest to seven counts of involuntary manslaughter in the commission of misdemeanor child endangering.

The plea agreement with prosecutors reduces the offenses from first-degree felonies to third-degree felonies and drops seven separate counts of child endangerment.

That means Ms. Ragland faces a maximum of up to five years in prison on each count -- or a total of 35 years -- instead of 10 years on each count when she appears for sentencing Oct. 28.

Ms. Ragland contends she left the children alone for six or seven minutes on Oct. 24, 2004, while she went to make phone calls at a nearby apartment because she had no phone. The calls were to the father of one of the children and a grandmother of one of the children in an effort to get money to buy needed formula and diapers for the babies.

Toledo fire investigators said that while she was gone, one of the children playing with matches, a lighter, or a candle in a rear upstairs bedroom at the apartment at 5118 Norwich Rd. set bedding on fire.

The smoke and fire spread from that bedroom, located at the top of the stairs, and led the children to retreat beneath beds in another upstairs bedrooms.

Firefighters responding to the fire got some of the children outside and worked frantically to save them, but to no avail. The children ranged in age from 7 months to 7 years.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.

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