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DHS worker testifies in Del City child neglect case

Del City fire inspector, Department of Human Services worker testified at the trial of Christopher Lee Dunham, 26, about drug use of defendant and wife, whose young children died in motor home fire.
by Tim Willert Modified: May 8, 2012 at 9:48 pm •  Published: May 8, 2012

A Del City father whose three young children died in a motor home fire was concerned about their mother's drug use leading up to the tragedy, a Department of Human Services worker testified Tuesday.

Angela Newman, a DHS child welfare specialist, said Christopher Lee Dunham told her he was worried Stephanie Dunham was using methamphetamine because she “had lost a lot of weight.”

The father, she added, admitted using methamphetamine and marijuana and said he had recently smoked marijuana after a brief period of sobriety.

Dunham, 26, is charged with three counts of felony child neglect or enabling child neglect and three drug-related charges in connection with the Jan. 4, 2011, fire that killed Christopher L. Dunham Jr., 4; Crystal Ann Dunham, 3; and Kailey Mae Dunham, 1.

The children, prosecutors allege, were locked inside the motor home when the fire broke out. Their mother, who admitted being in an adjacent house when the fire started, pleaded no contest to similar charges last week.

Prosecutors contend Dunham, who was at work when the fire started, was responsible for leaving the children alone with their mother, a known drug user with bipolar disorder.

Robert Sisson, Christopher Dunham's attorney, told the jury during opening statements in front of Oklahoma County District Court Judge Jerry D. Bass that the fire was an accident and not his client's fault.

The children's parents were hardworking, Sisson said.

“The evidence will show you that this is a space heater fire … a tragic accident,” he said.

A Del City fire inspector testified that when he arrived at the residence there was “heavy black smoke” rising 100 feet into the air.

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Maj. Zion Williams said Stephanie Dunham was standing barefoot in the driveway leading to the motor home “just kind of staring at us.”

Williams said the mother gave several versions of what happened, including one in which she said she was inside the motor home when one of the kids knocked over a space heater that started the fire. She said she left to get some water, but when she came back the flames were too intense, the witness said.

“I think she gave us a total of three or four stories,” said Williams, who testified at length.

Stephanie Dunham, the inspector testified, eventually said the door was locked from the outside.

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by Tim Willert
Tim Willert is a native Californian with Oklahoma ties who covers education. Prior to moving to Oklahoma in June 2011, he was as an editor for in Century City, Calif., and reported on courts for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and...
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