A Puyallup woman who was called “Superwoman” by firefighters for saving her young son seconds before a home explosion has been charged with arson for starting the fire that destroyed her home.
Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist also charged Melinda Kay Sayers Friday with filing false insurance claims.
Sayers, 37, pleaded not guilty in an initial court appearance.
The woman and her family drew widespread support and sympathy after media reports detailed her rescue of her two-year-old son Eli after fire broke out in their home April 1. Oxygen tanks recently set up in the house for her ailing baby daughter were believed to be the cause of the explosion.
The prematurely born child was hospitalized at Seattle Children’s Hospital at the time of the explosion with severe brain damage. The 11-month old baby was scheduled to come home from the hospital the following day. She subsequently died the next night.
“Detectives immediately noticed that the fire was not consistent with the evidence at the scene to be an accident,” Pierce County Sheriff’s Department Detective Troyer told KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don Show.
Sayers told investigators she started the fire because she wanted her daughter to stay at the hospital. She had too much going on and didn’t have the time to take care of the daughter, Troyer said.
“She admitted to setting the fire by lighting a candle and opening up the oxygen tanks and causing the explosion.”
An online campaign has raised over $32,800 for the Sayers family. Troyer said it appears the fundraiser was part of a premeditated scheme to elicit sympathy and manipulate people to donate.
Lindquist said she also filed a number of false insurance claims.
“She needed money, and the arson was the way to get it,” he said.
Detectives are also investigating whether Sayers had anything to do with the death of her daughter, and the Seattle Police Department has confirmed it is looking closer at the child’s death.
“When we looked at little bit closer at her, she is a registered nurse, which she never told anybody at the hospital or anybody that was setting up the equipment. We determined she was suspended as an RN in another state for fraud,” he said. There were also a number of other “very concerning” police reports on her, Troyer said.
Sayers’ husband Chris is not believed to be involved in the explosion or scheme and was “extremely distraught,” Troyer said.
The creator of the fundraising site, Chris’ aunt Wanda O’Dell, wrote Friday she was “horrified by the recent news of Mindie’s alleged involvement in the fire,” but says she created to help the entire family. She says no money will go to Mindie and hopes to continue raising funds for her nephew and his son, but will refund money to any donors that want one.
O’Dell also wrote that none of the Sayers had any involvement in the creation of the fundraising campaign.