NEW CHICAGO — The mother of a toddler who died in mobile home fire is suing the property owner, alleging a lack of water supply and fire hydrants contributed to her daughter's death.
Melania Gwinn, 2, died after a large fire Aug. 20, 2020, at Pine Village mobile home park in the 500 block of East 37th Avenue in New Chicago. She was identified through DNA, according to the Lake County coroner's office.
In court documents filed Friday in Lake Superior Court, attorneys representing the girl's mother allege that when firefighters arrived that afternoon, they were "unable to provide necessary assistance due to (the property owner's) failure to provide an adequate supply of water."
Gwinn was found in a living room after firefighters knocked down the flames, New Chicago Fire Chief Joe Eakins previously told The Times.
The girl's mother, Stephanie Schuitema, was found unconscious in a back bedroom and flown to University of Chicago Medical Center for treatment.
The blaze destroyed three mobile homes. Residents banded together to save a 4-year-old boy from the burning mobile home where Schuitema was inside with her daughter. They attempted to get inside the home before crews arrived, but were not able to because of the flames.
The residents also alerted occupants of nearby homes to evacuate. After the fire, several people organized to hold donation drives for the victims who lost their homes and belongings.
Schuitema is being represented by Dan Calhoun, Ben Murphy and Chris Cooper. Currently, Schuitema is still trying to recover from her injuries. Her attorneys said that some of the injuries she suffered are permanent, causing incurred medical expenses, physical pain, mental pain, disfigurement and an inability to engage in normal activities.
"Further, (Schuitema) suffered emotional distress from the loss of her 2-year-old minor child, Melania Gwinn," the suit states.
Legal representatives said at this time the family does not wish to speak with the media.
The defendant and property owner of Pine Village, formerly known as Ravinia Pines, is named as M.R.R. 2036 South Michigan LLC in the lawsuit. The company could not immediately be reached for comment.
In the lawsuit, Schuitema's attorneys state M.R.R. 2036 South Michigan LLC had contracted with the Town of New Chicago to provide water to the residents of the mobile home park, which included water supply for fire protection.
Due to lack of fire hydrants near the burning mobile home, firefighters were forced to access a fire hydrant outside of Pine Village, the lawsuit alleges.
It goes on to argue this caused a delay in firefighters' ability to extinguish the fire and it took longer to make contact with the mother and her young daughter. Schuitema's attorneys said this is a "direct and proximate cause (of the defendant's) negligence."
Schuitema is seeking compensation for her injuries, damages, lawsuit costs and loss of her child and is requesting a jury trial. Her attorneys also stated she is demanding the property owner provide sufficient hydrants and water supply in the mobile home park for the safety of the residents.