Teacher killed in Bonita house fire was pregnant

Posted at 3:41 PM, Dec 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-30 02:22:27-05

Fire investigators Tuesday ruled out arson but were still trying to pinpoint the cause of a fast-moving blaze that killed a 22-year-old woman and injured four others at a South Bay home owned by a former assemblywoman and Chula Vista mayor.

Vanessa Dela Cruz was found dead in a back bedroom of the home at 3858 Alameda Way after firefighters extinguished the pre-dawn fire Monday morning.

A memorial candlelight vigil was scheduled at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Kids Depot Child Development Center at 1394 E. Palomar St. in Otay Ranch, where Dela Cruz had taught preschoolers for the past six months.

Dela Cruz's father awoke shortly before 5 a.m. Monday to smoke and flames filling the home near Willow Street and tried to wake the rest of his family. When family members realized that Dela Cruz was still in the home, her father and brother placed a ladder beneath her window, broke the glass and called to her, authorities said.

She initially answered her family, but moments later went silent, and her brother and father had to move away from the flames.

Fire crews had the blaze knocked down around 5:20 a.m. and subsequently found Dela Cruz's body, according to the sheriff's department and the medical examiner's office.

The fire apparently started in a screened patio area of the home, according to sheriff's Deputy Anthony Tripoli. He also said that arson had been ruled out, although the cause of the fire has yet to be determined.

Three of the four family members who were taken to UC San Diego Medical Center for treatment of smoke inhalation have been released, according to Tripoli. One woman remained hospitalized.

Dela Cruz's father told 10News that his daughter had told him that night that she was pregnant.

"It's a blessing ... I was just happy she had the guts to tell me, rather than hide it from me," the victim's father said.

The 1.22-acre property, which has several homes on it, has been owned by former assemblywoman and Chula Vista Mayor Shirley Horton and her husband, Luther, since 1987, according to county assessor records.

The American Red Cross was helping the family with shelter and other needs, and a Go Fund Me page has been set up to help the family with funeral expenses.