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Mother Pleads Guilty in Fatal Fire That Killed 4 Children

2:48 PM, Dec 8, 2012   |    comments
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Written by Brian Sharp, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

A Rochester mother admitted in Monroe County Court that she was drunk and had just taken sleeping pills when she set a fire in February that killed four of her children.

Bobbie J. Kugler, 31, wept with her head in her hands as she pleaded guilty Friday morning to four counts of second-degree manslaughter, three counts of second-degree assault and one count of fourth-degree arson, all felonies.

In exchange for her plea, Kugler will serve seven to 15 years in state prison.

Kugler was initially also facing four counts of second-degree murder. Had Kugler gone to trial and been convicted of all charges, including murder, she faced a possible sentence of life in prison.

"She today admitted that she played a role in the death of four of her children," said Assistant District Attorney Kyle Steinebach. "Nothing this court can do would be worse than that."

Kugler was not accused of intentionally trying to kill her children: Gage Reavey, 14; Greg Kugler, 13; Kandee Kugler, 12; and Kaiden Kugler, 6. Rather, she admitted she recklessly caused the death of her children while committing another felony - arson - in her home at 82 Grape St. on Feb. 18.

Three other people were also injured in the blaze, but survived.

Kugler wept as she explained to County Court Judge Douglass Randall that she went to the kitchen stove to ignite a photo.

She said she then walked to her first-floor bedroom, used the photo to light four or five sticks of incense ablaze.

She said she put the still-burning photo on a dresser and went to sleep. "I remember the firemen coming in," she said. "He was pulling me out of my house." Kugler said she grabbed her two-year-old son, who was asleep on a first-floor couch, before she left the burning house.

Kugler also said in court Friday that before she burned the photo, she had taken three sleeping pills and consumed four or five 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor. "I was drunk," she said, wiping tears from her face.

Kugler's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Michael Lopez, said Kugler did not intend to hurt anyone. But, with her plea, she admitted that her actions - "reckless" under the law - caused the deaths and injuries. 

"The fire unfortunately was an accident," Lopez said.

Kugler moved to Rochester in late 2011 in part to enroll her deaf son, Greg, in specialized programs, Lopez said. But, he said, she was troubled by "things that were going on of a highly personal nature that led to her actions" the night of the fire.

He declined to detail the issues.

"I can't really imagine too many things more horrible that what Bobbie has gone through with these last 10 months," Lopez said. "We cannot forget that the reason we are here is that there are four dead children," Steinebach said. "It's a tough day, but ultimately (Kugler) took responsibility for causing the deaths and injuries."

Erica Evans and Colleen Bender, who both have sons who survived the fire, were in court Friday morning.

Both women, who cried throughout the proceedings, declined to comment.

Fire Chief Salvatore Mitrano III released a statement after Kugler entered her plea. "The loss of four young members of our community on Feb. 18, 2012 had a profound impact on many members of the Rochester community as well as members of the Rochester Fire Department. Although the heartbreak can never fully be healed, I hope that today's proceedings will bring some solace to those affected."

Kugler is scheduled to return to County Court Jan. 22 to be sentenced. She also waived her right to appeal the plea.

Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

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