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Judge begins hearing testimony related to deadly Alpine fire

Updated August 18, 2020 - 6:52 pm

The first day of a preliminary hearing in the involuntary manslaughter case against the landlord and property manager of the Alpine Motel Apartments, the site of the deadliest residential fire in Las Vegas, consisted of graphic testimony and evidence.

At the conclusion of the hearing, which is expected to last through next week, Justice of the Peace Ann Zimmerman will decide whether there is enough evidence for the owner, Adolfo Orozco, and property manager Malinda Mier to stand trial. Both defendants are out of custody after posting bail.

Donning a navy suit, Orozco sat mostly still through three hours of testimony on Tuesday while his co-defendant was at times emotional.

The first witness called to testify was Metropolitan Police Department patrol officer Nolan Daniel, who was among the first officers to arrive at the scene on Dec. 21 and had moved the body of a man who “was beyond help” after he had been pulled from the ground floor.

“I still remember that to this day,” Daniel said. “I didn’t have any gloves on me at the time.”

Until then, Daniel had been speaking matter-of-factly about his duties as an officer. But his tone shifted as he described touching the victim’s badly burned skin with his bare hands.

Mier wept.

The pre-dawn fire at 213 N. Ninth St., an aging 41-unit building constructed in 1972 in downtown Las Vegas, left six people dead, 13 more injured and dozens displaced the week before Christmas. When firefighters arrived, authorities have said, they found residents jumping and dangling from windows on the second and third floors.

Orozco and Mier were charged on July 30 with manslaughter — one count each for the six victims — and 15 counts of performance of an act or neglect of duty in disregard of safety resulting in substantial bodily harm or death.

In addition to Daniel’s testimony, two Metro crime scene analysts testified Tuesday regarding a combined 200-plus photos taken of the building in the days after the fire. The photos showed extensive damage to the building’s ground floor hallway, which was charred black with soot, as well as graphic photos of the victims who, unable to escape, died inside the building.

Documents obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal from city officials in the weeks after the fire revealed that the Alpine had not been inspected by the Las Vegas Fire Department for nearly three years, between April 2013 and March 2016.

The documents also detailed a history of fire code violations dating to 2006, including fire doors not closing properly, security bars in sleeping areas not equipped with an emergency release, and daisy-chaining extension cords and surge protectors. Such code violations were seen in the photographs shown in court Tuesday.

Orozco also faces four counts of preventing or dissuading a witness or victim from reporting a crime with the use of a deadly weapon.

Prosecutors have said that Orozco offered the apartment’s live-in building manager and his fiancee money to leave town, and tried to persuade them not to talk to detectives about the fire “by brandishing a modified AK-47 style assault rifle.”

One of Orozco’s attorneys, Paola Armeni, previously suggested that the live-in manager, identified by authorities as Jason Casteel, was culpable for the deaths.

Testimony is set to resume Thursday afternoon.

Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

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