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Cleveland man sentenced in 2022 day care fire

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press: A former Cleveland, Tennessee, day care worker who pleaded guilty in January to 27 counts of reckless endangerment stemming from a February 2022 fire at Little Lambs Child Care Center has been sentenced in Bradley County Circuit Court to 90 days in jail.


James Roger Carpenter Jr., 54, sought judicial diversion in the case as an alternative to jail at a hearing in April, when prosecutors deferred to Circuit Court Judge Andrew Freiberg on what Carpenter’s punishment should be, according to court documents. Freiberg denied Carpenter’s motion for diversion and handed down the sentence earlier this month.


On Feb. 10, 2022, authorities were dispatched to Little Lambs on Waterlevel Highway at 11:41 a.m. on a report of a fire. Twenty-seven children and four staff members were moved to a nearby building, authorities said at the time in a news release. There were no injuries in the fire.


While first responders were getting the children out of the day care, they noticed open beer containers in a room at the facility, authorities said. When they questioned Carpenter, he told authorities he had multiple alcoholic beverages while working at the center that day, according to the release.


Carpenter was arrested and charged with child neglect, but when the case came before General Sessions Judge Sheridan Randolph, the charges were dismissed because the day care was “not in custody” of the children, officials said at the time.


District Attorney Stephen Crump presented the case to the Bradley County grand jury, and new charges were issued against Carpenter in an indictment containing 27 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of reckless burning, the Chattanooga Times Free Press previously reported.


According to court records, Carpenter admitted to drinking beer and small “airplane” bottles of liquor while he was in charge of the children, and to smoking in the day care in the area where the fire started. Freiberg in his May 11 ruling found Carpenter was impaired and said he had a history of criminal convictions and criminal behavior.


Carpenter’s actions placed the 27 children at the day care at serious risk of bodily injury or death, Freiberg ruled in issuing the three-month sentence.


According to court documents, Carpenter is to report May 28 to the Bradley County Jail and will be given credit for the time he spent in jail in February and April of 2022 while being held.