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Woman accused of starting fire

Sherry Cruz (Buy photo)

Her son, 2, died in the blaze

By Joe Beck

Authorities are accusing a Middleburg woman of starting the fire that killed her 2-year-old child in the 300 block of Kent Street in Winchester on June 18.

Sherry Lee Cruz, 34, faces four counts of felony child abuse after an appearance Monday in Winchester Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. She was arrested about 6 p.m. Friday and taken to the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center where she remains held without bail.

The child who died in the fire, Christian Cruz, was pronounced dead at Winchester Medical Center from his injuries after Sherry Cruz and several bystanders managed to remove four other children from the burning building at 300 N. Kent St., according to court records.

The criminal complaint against Cruz, signed by Sgt. Frank Myrtle of the Winchester Police Department, states the house with six occupants was "fully involved" with flames by the time emergency crews arrived.

Cruz told Myrtle and Assistant Fire Marshal Matthew Gearhart that four of her children were asleep in the only bedroom when the fire started, according to the complaint.

The complaint states that Cruz told Myrtle and Gearhart that she had nailed the door to the bedroom shut to prevent the children from wandering outside the residence.

A fifth child was in the living room area when the fire started, according to Cruz's account cited in the criminal complaint.

Investigators determined the fire began in the living room area and noticed "a strong odor of flammable liquid" in the room, the complaint states. A subsequent laboratory analysis revealed that gasoline was detected in samples of material collected in the living room, the complaint states.

The complaint states Cruz told inconsistent stories in several interviews focused on how the fire started.

Cruz "admitted to purchasing one gallon of gasoline and a gas can the morning of the fire and bringing it back to her residence, which she stated was for a vehicle located in Middleburg," the complaint states.

Investigators concluded the vehicle was used on "an almost daily basis" and filled with gas several times at the Middleburg location, despite claims by Cruz that the tank on the parked vehicle was empty and the vehicle had not been moved.

The complaint also cites several other alleged discrepancies in stories she told investigators. For example, in a separate interview about the start of the fire, Cruz told a police detective that the four children inside the bedroom were beating on a door "and not asleep as she previously stated," according to the complaint.

Myrtle's complaint concludes that Cruz "was the only adult inside the residence when the fire originated and her actions of starting the fire placed the children inside the residence in danger."

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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