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Settlement Reached In 2003 Fire Deaths

ARDMORE, Okla. (AP) -- The state Department of Human Services and three other groups have reached a settlement with the paternal grandparents of three children who died in a house fire in Ardmore in August 2003.

In a copyright story in Sunday's editions, The Oklahoman reported that records showed that the case was settled for $370,000. Of that, DHS paid $200,000, about $105,000 of which will go to a nonprofit organization that tries to prevent child abuse.

High Pointe HealthCare of Oklahoma City and Community Children's Shelter, both private child-welfare agencies, paid $75,000 and $60,000, respectively, while Emmanuel Baptist Church, which owned the house, paid $35,000.

Attorneys for DHS and High Pointe HealthCare said that in the agreement, neither acknowledged liability for the fire that killed 3-year-old Isaiah Ganis, his 2-year-old sister MaKayla and his 1-year-old brother Christian.

Their mother, Sarah L. Ganis, is serving a 40-year prison sentence after being convicted in 2004 of nine counts of child neglect. Ganis was 24 when the fire occurred while she left the children unattended and smoked a cigarette at a neighbor's house.

The children's father, Donald Joseph Ganis, had moved out months earlier, and her boyfriend was not home when the fire happened.

The grandparents, Donald Wayne Ganis and Ethel Ganis of Oregon, received about $85,000 from the settlement after paying attorney's fees and legal and other costs. They said that state welfare workers knew that Sarah Ganis had routinely neglected the children and that DHS did not attempt to remove the children from the filthy home.

"With all the red flags that were up, they should have done something sooner," Donald Wayne Ganis said. "The system back there failed us as a family ... I get angry about it every day."

He called the settlement "an insult. We would have been satisfied with just a formal, written apology, but that never happened. And it never will happen. They won't admit that they made a mistake."

At the time the children died, the Carter County Department of Human Services Child Welfare Division had received several referrals about the condition of the children.

Child welfare workers listed conditions as filthy, full of litter, filled with flies and roaches and having no edible food. The children were described as dirty, unkempt and smelling of urine.

Instead of attempting to have the children removed, DHS workers chose to allow Sarah Ganis to seek counseling. The grandparents, who then lived in Ardmore, said they would have kept the children had they been removed from Sarah Ganis' home.

"I was scared for those babies," Ethel Ganis said. "If DHS had done their job, they'd be alive."

DHS agreed to the settlement "just to bring some closure to it," human services attorney Joseph Strealy said. "There was no admission of liability on our part."

Strealy said DHS workers "get sued whether you take the baby right away or you don't take the baby, so that's the difficulty there."

DHS had hired High Pointe to provide home-based services for mothers such as Sarah Ganis, and High Pointe paid Community Children's Shelter for the actual case workers in Ardmore. High Pointe's attorney, James Secrest, said the agency "didn't admit any wrongdoing."
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