Updated: July 15, 2020 03:00 PM
Created: July 15, 2020 01:58 PM
A California man charged in connection to a fatal van fire in Fridley that killed a 6-year-old last year has pleaded guilty.
According to court records, 71-year-old Roberto Lino Hipolito, of Long Beach, Calif., pleaded guilty to two counts of negligent fire. He did not enter a plea to a charge of second-degree manslaughter.
His sentencing is set for Aug. 12.
According to the criminal complaint, at 7:13 a.m. on Aug. 6, 2019, authorities responded to a report of several motor vehicles on fire in the parking lot of a Walmart located at 8450 University Avenue in Fridley. As firefighters were in the process of extinguishing the flames, a woman ran out of the store, screaming that her kids were in one of the vehicles. Firefighters then removed the two children, ages 6 and 9, from the vehicle. Both children were transported to a hospital in critical condition at the time.
Officers later learned through surveillance video and witnesses that a Dodge Caravan with North Carolina license plates had been the initial vehicle to start the fire, and that the fire had started in the rear of the van before spreading to the vehicle the girls were in. An investigation determined the fire may have been caused by a cookstove that had been recovered.
Hipolito was identified as the owner of the van. He told authorities he and his wife had parked in the parking lot, then slept overnight in the van. When asked about the cookstove, he said he'd used it the previous night. He later confessed to using the stove that morning. Surveillance video showed Hipolito placing the stove on the pavement by the rear of the van, then using it to cook something. The complaint states that after cooking, and without significant time to allow the stove to cool, he put the stove in the rear of the van. Moments later, the vehicle was moved to a closer parking spot by the entrance of the store. Hipolito was then seen entering the store, and approximately two minutes later, a passerby alerted Hipolito's wife of a fire in the parking lot.
The complaint goes on to say within three to four minutes, both cars on each side of the van were on fire.
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