Six people are dead, and 13 remain injured after the awful Alpine Motel Apartment Fire, just before Christmas this past December. The building had gone over two years without a fire inspection, despite a history of failed inspections over the last decade. According to experienced Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys, although civil actions have already been filed, there may also be aspects of criminal negligence.
Inspectors Find Many Fire Code Violations Following Deadly Fire
When fire inspectors investigated the Alpine on December 22nd, two days after the deadly fire, they discovered that 42 fire code violations were applicable. These violations included an exit door that was bolted shut from the outside, security bars covering a sleeping area with no emergency release, no emergency lighting in the building, vending machines obstructing an exit pathway, and missing or broken smoke detectors in 14 locations in the residential building.
Robert Solomon, an engineer affiliated with the National Fire Protection Association, said that the list of violations was one of the worst cases he’s ever seen in his entire career. “Somebody obviously didn’t care about the building, which means they probably didn’t care about the people in the building,” Solomon said.
Who Is Responsible for the Oversight?
Fire department records show that inspectors hadn’t visited the building for an annual inspection since April of 2017. Las Vegas Fire Marshall, Robert Nolan, says he regrets that his office failed to inspect the Alpine Motel Apartment building in recent months. “That’s on me,” he said.
But is it, really? Although there was a long list of failed inspections, what obligation did the fire department have to force the Motel Apartment complex to do something about it? Did they have that power at all?
After the failed inspection in 2017, the case was referred to a team meant to focus on the safety of low-income apartment complexes. However, Alpine ended up not qualifying for that program because the city did not license the building as an apartment residence. City records list the property as a licensed residence hotel. This different code designation may have contributed to the confusion about who, exactly, was responsible for the building.
Similar confusion had happened before, when residents had complained about issues such as caved-in ceiling, mold, or other hazardous problems in their apartments. This time, the building managers said that these were not issues they dealt with directly, and residents were asked to privately contact the health district on their own time to resolve the problems.
Residents Say Property Management Didn’t Care
Scotti Hughes, who spent time with Tracy Cihal, age 57, on the evening before she died in the fire, said that “Falling through the cracks is not an excuse.” He added that inspectors must have become “lazy” or didn’t care to follow up. “Just because it’s low-income, just because it’s not in the greatest of neighborhoods, it doesn’t mean there’s not real people who live there. If it was Summerlin, it totally wouldn’t have fell through the cracks.”
The fire began in the early morning and was believed to have originated from a stove being used to heat the first-floor apartment. Records show that inspectors discovered multiple ovens in multiple residences turned on with open doors. When residents were questioned about this method of heating their apartments, they told officials that the building had no working heat.
Floyd Guenther, a former resident of the building who had been living there for three months, said he submitted two handwritten work orders to the building’s front office, both of which requested that his smoke detectors be replaced; they failed to work even after he replaced the batteries. Guenther said he never received a response to his requests.
The morning of the fire, he pounded on his neighbors’ doors in an attempt to wake and save them. He also pulled on the fire alarm pull stations in the building to activate the alarms, but none of the fire alarms worked.
A Terrifying Scene Left Residents Trapped
As mentioned, one of the building’s doors was bolted shut, so when residents attempted to use it to escape from the heat and smoke, they were unable to open it. Several residents, including a pregnant woman, resorted to jumping from second and third-story windows to save their lives.
One day after the post-fire inspection records were officially released, the family of Cihal filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Alpine ownership, including Las Vegas Dragon Hotel LLC and Orozco.
Other saddening stories of individuals who did not survive include the story of 61-year-old Cynthia Mikell. She was just five steps away from an exit when she died. She lived on the ground floor of the Alpine Motel Apartments and walked with a walker. Cynthia lived in the unit closest to the rear exit – which was the exit bolted shut. Her body was found mid-way down the hall, where she likely had turned around after having discovered the exit nearest to her was locked. Her body was severely burned.
The Clark County coroner’s office identified the other victims as Henry Lawrence Pinc, age 70, Francis Lombardo Jr. age 72, Donald Keith Bennett, age 63, and Kerry Baclaan, age 46.
Survivors Left Stunned
Other surviving residents are struggling to find new homes. Fortunately, neighboring residences and local charities are helping to provide temporary residences for the displaced fire victims.
Some of the survivors shared their miraculous stories, such as Gordon, who had left town the afternoon before, on a whim, and as if he had been guided. “It’s like God was watching over me,” he said.
And then, the survivor’s guilt sets in.
Many blessings to the victims and the friends and families of those involved in this tragic incident.