Updated October 27, 2020 - 8:00 pm
The day after the deadly blaze at the Alpine Motel Apartments, the owner of the building sat down with the live-in manager, with a pistol on his hip and brandishing a “mini AK,” the manager testified Tuesday.
“He said, would I be willing to ‘take some money and take a vacation?’” Jason Casteel told Justice of the Peace Ann Zimmerman, lifting his tattooed arms to make air quotes. “I took it to mean that I needed to leave.”
Casteel, who lived on the third floor, escaped the deadliest fire in Las Vegas history through the window of his apartment on Dec. 21. He testified at the preliminary hearing for the owner, Adolfo Orozco, and manager, Malinda Mier.
The fire at 213 N. Ninth St. left six people dead, 13 more injured and dozens displaced the week before Christmas.
Orozco and Mier each face one count of manslaughter for each of the victims and 15 counts of performance of an act or neglect of duty in disregard of safety resulting in substantial bodily harm or death.
Orozco also faces four counts of preventing or dissuading a witness or victim from reporting a crime with the use of a deadly weapon.
Mier was jailed this month after authorities said she violated a condition of her bail, but she was released Friday morning on $10,000 bail. Orozco remains free on $50,000 bail.
In court Tuesday, Casteel testified that after the fire, Mier told him that Orozco wanted all of the managers to factory reset their phones.
Casteel didn’t, he testified, and some of his text messages were read aloud in court by prosecutor John Giordani.
One from Orozco, sent after the fire, read, “Managers and employees, make sure that you do not talk to anyone at all.”
Another, sent on Dec. 23, 2019, read, “The less you talk the better.”
Casteel testified that he and his fiancee, Christina Farinella, have been followed by a yellow pickup — a vehicle known to be driven by maintenance men who worked for Orozco.
He detailed three incidents, the most recent being Sunday, when he saw the truck parked in his driveway.
“To me, it looked like somebody that I know, but I couldn’t say for sure,” Casteel said, adding that he thought it was someone he knew who worked for Orozco.
Casteel said that he made $8.25 an hour in cash as a manager and continued to pay rent while living at the Alpine. He lived at the Alpine for five years but had only been a manager since August 2019. He described the property as having fire hazards, roaches, bed bugs and water leaks and being run-down.
In one text message shown in court, Casteel described it as the “black sheep” of Orozco’s company, Las Vegas Dragon Hotel LLC.
The hearing also centered on the bolted exit door, which residents have said left some trapped the night of the fire.
It was one of more than 40 fire code violations noted in an inspection of the property after the blaze, including a defective fire alarm system and missing or inoperable smoke detectors.
In a February court filing made by Orozco’s defense attorney, Dominic Gentile, Casteel was accused of ordering the building’s rear exit door to be bolted shut.
According to the filing, Casteel “was directed” to replace the Alpine’s rear door because the door at the time was “failing to provide security for the residents from unauthorized persons entering.”
But Casteel testified that he needed approval from Orozco to buy anything and did not have the authority to make purchases for the company.
Text messages show that Casteel communicated with Orozco repeatedly about the need to repair the building’s front and back door, and a picture he took of the maintenance list in December showed those orders were removed.
“Adolfo told me that he was taking care of it, and it didn’t need to be put on the list constantly,” Casteel testified.
Text messages from October 2019 showed that Casteel went to Home Depot and texted Orozco photos of doors and estimates.
“I gave him that estimate, and that was the last I heard from him about replacing it,” he testified.
On Dec. 6, 2019, Casteel followed up, telling Orozco they “really need to get this done.”
Casteel is set to take the stand again Thursday.
Since mid-August, Zimmerman has heard testimony from fire inspectors, residents of the apartment building and others who detailed their encounters with Orozco and Mier.
At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, which could extend through the month, Zimmerman is expected to decide whether prosecutors have enough evidence for Mier and Orozco to stand trial.