WILKES-BARRE — A lawsuit filed in county court on Monday puts blame for the deaths of two children in a 2017 arson squarely on the shoulders of Luzerne County Children and Youth Services.
The Philadelphia branch of the same office is also named as a defendant.
Deleon Major, father of two children killed in a fire that was intentionally set in Laflin on Oct. 25, says the department is to blame for granting custody to the children’s mother, Susan Major.
Ezekiel Major, 7, and Devon Major, 12, were killed along with their half-brother, Erik Dupree, 16. Prosecutors say the fire was intentionally set by Preston Bonnett, 27, who is now facing three counts each of arson and homicide.
Major, who resides in Philadelphia, filed the suit on Monday through his attorneys Jonathan Comitz, Jeremy Weistock and Rachael Litchman, all of the Comitz Law Firm.
He claims the agencies failed to properly train their employees, thus failing to prevent the children’s deaths. He is seeking unspecified compensation.
In the suit, Deleon Major claims he and Susan were ordered by a Luzerne County judge to share legal custody of their two children in 2014, with Deleon being given primary physical custody.
In January 2016, a Child Protective Services report was lodged with the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, Division of Children and Youth, which alleged Ezekiel had been observed with bruises near his left eye and on his left shoulder.
Deleon admitted to hitting Ezekiel with a belt, causing the injury on his back, but said he was not responsible for the eye injury.
The children were placed in the custody of Susan while Deleon awaited a shelter care hearing in Philadelphia, after he claims Luzerne County Children and Youth Services declined a request from the Philadelphia office to do a courtesy visit to Susan’s home.
Deleon claims this put the children in an unsafe position, saying Susan had a history of mental health problems, allegedly having suicidal and homicidal thoughts aimed at him.
Additionally, being in the home allegedly exposed the children to drug use and theft by their mother and Bonnett, who allegedly threw a beer bottle through the home’s window two weeks before the arson, the suit maintains.
County Chief Solicitor Romilda Crocamo said later Monday that she and her office had not yet seen the filing and therefore could not comment.
Bonnett is currently set to go to trial Jan. 28, 2019.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan