Mother May Face Charges in Fire Fatal to 2 Children

Times Staff Writer

National City police and fire investigators on Thursday asked the district attorney’s office to determine whether a 27-year-old woman should face any criminal charges as the result of a apartment fire that killed her two children.

A spokesman for the National City Police Department said its investigation indicated that the fire that claimed the lives of Jamie White, 4, and Sherry White, 3, may have started after their mother, Linda Mortenson, left them alone in their one-bedroom apartment.

Mortenson told investigators that she had just finished taking a bath Aug. 27 when the fire started, and that she became separated from her two children during her efforts to extinguish the flames.


But interviews with neighbors and witnesses suggested that Mortenson was away from home when the fire broke out and arrived after it had been raging for several minutes, the police spokesman said.

The district attorney’s office will review the investigators’ findings and determine whether to charge Mortenson with criminal child neglect or other crimes, said the office’s spokesman, Steve Casey.

According to police Sgt. Mike Connelly, Mortenson told investigators the day after the fire that she had just finished bathing when Jamie ran into the bathroom yelling, “Mommy, there’s a fire!”

Mortenson said she told her two daughters to leave the apartment while she tried to put out the fire, which she told police “appeared to get bigger every time (she) threw water on it,” Connelly said.

Mortenson told police that after realizing she could not extinguish the flames, she tried to grab her children, who had remained inside the apartment, but that the youngsters ran into the bathroom. Mortenson said she fled the building yelling for help.

The children’s bodies were found in the bathroom beneath debris from the fire. Investigators said that a clutter of furniture and a flow of oxygen from open windows fueled the fast-moving blaze.