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Attorney of mother charged with child endangerment: ‘this was a horrible accident’

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, July 23, 2013, at 3:07 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Sep. 12, 2013, at 2:02 p.m.

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A mother charged with child endangerment, after her 6-year-old daughter died from burns suffered when no adult was home, made her first court appearance Tuesday, and her attorney defended her.

Ruthie L. Bell, 27, faces three counts of aggravated child endangerment in Sedgwick County District Court. Judge Ben Burgess set her bond at $100,000, an increase from the $75,000 bond that had been set. Her next court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 6.

After the brief court appearance Tuesday afternoon, Bell’s defense attorney, Pat Mitchell, told The Eagle: “Obviously, we feel that this was a horrible accident. She’s devastated by it. This was her child.”

Authorities have said that Bell’s 6-year-old daughter, Ja’Kara Dickson, died July 14 from burns suffered when she was playing with a lighter and accidentally set her clothes on fire while home with her 7- and 4-year-old sisters. The emergency happened shortly before 7 p.m. July 11 at a home at 3915 E. Countryside, near Harry and Hillside. The flames quickly spread, and a next-door neighbor came to the children’s rescue after hearing a fire alarm, authorities have said. No adult was home at the time, police said.

Ja’Kara’s two sisters, who were not seriously injured in the fire, have been placed in protective custody.

Each of the three counts says that Bell “did ... unlawfully and recklessly cause or permit a child under the age of 18 ... to be placed in a situation in which the child’s life, body or health is endangered.”

Mitchell, Bell’s defense attorney, said that as time goes on, it will “become apparent that she is not guilty of these charges.” He added that he plans to “vigorously defend her against the charges.”

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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