Local law firm also will represent woman in wrongful death suit
Just a day after she went public about her overwhelming pain — both physical and emotional — Valerie Edwards is now filled with hope. Sobs of joy replaced the 50-year-old burn victim’s tears of sadness as she learned Wednesday a local law firm has volunteered to defend her in a wrongful death lawsuit. "I’m just so glad and so, so thankful people are willing to help me," Edwards said. "I really didn’t know what I was going to do." Local law firm Husch Blackwell Sanders LLP has stepped forward to represent Edwards in the lawsuit filed by Tanesha West, mother of 11-year-old Anariah West who died in a fire at Edwards’ house six months ago. Tanesha West is claiming damages in excess of $50,000, though Edwards and her husband were foster parents of the baby at the time. "We felt she needed some legal representation," said Michael Fricke, an associate at the law firm taking Edwards’ case. "My heart goes out to this family, and we will do our best to do anything we can to help." Tanesha West did not return phone calls for comment on Wednesday, and her attorney, Peter LaSorsa, won’t discuss the case. "Conceivably, we’re going to have a jury pool, and it’s not proper to taint that," he said. "I honestly just don’t think it’s ethical to try this case in public." A fund was also set up Wednesday for Edwards, who is facing nearly $1 million in medical bills after being severely burned on her arms, face and chest in the Dec. 26 fire. She repeatedly entered her burning house in an attempt to save baby Anariah, who was trapped in her crib. Edwards adopted Tanesha West’s other three children in 2006, after having cared for them for several years. Edwards said their mother was forced to give up custody because she had not been feeding her children and sometimes also beat them. "I’m all they know," Edwards said of Danaya, 5, Tanaya, 6, and Tyreese, 7. "I got them when they were all still in Pampers. They call me ‘mom’ because they don’t know any different." Edwards said Tanesha West, whose children know her as "Boo," came to Edwards’ house occasionally to use the computer. "I wish her well, but I don’t plan on seeing her anymore," Edwards said. Days after the December fire, Tanesha West told the Journal Star she didn’t blame anyone, especially Edwards, for her baby’s death. "If it weren’t for Val, I don’t know where I would be today," she said then. Erin Wood can be reached at (309) 686-3194 or email@example.com. How to help Donations for the Edwards family may be made in person at any of the three local Redbrand Credit Union offices: 201 E. Lake Ave. in Peoria; 820 Mckinley Ave. in Bartonville; or 2910 Court St. in Pekin’s Sunset Shopping Plaza. Donations may also be mailed to Redbrand Credit Union, P.O. Box 4128, Bartonville, IL 61607. Please make checks payable to the Edwards Fund.