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Surviving tenant sues over deadly fire at Alpine Motel

Another lawsuit was filed this week against the former owner of the Alpine Motel Apartments, the site of the deadliest residential fire in Las Vegas city history.

Renee Duncan, a tenant who survived the fatal fire on Dec. 21, 2019, filed the suit Monday against former owner Adolfo Orozco; his wife, Erika Ayala; companies the suit claimed were responsible for maintaining the fire alarm system in the building; Jason Casteel, the building’s live-in manager; and the estate of Donald Bennett, a maintenance worker who was one of six people killed in the blaze.

According to the suit, Duncan “continues to incur emotional distress, mental stress and anxiety, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of household services, lost wages, lost earning capacity, medical expenses, property damage, and possible future medical expenses” due to the fire.

When the blaze broke out, the Alpine’s back door was bolted shut, the fire alarm system was malfunctioning and the building did not have a working sprinkler system, according to Duncan’s suit, which echoed prior court filings and wrongful death suits.

At the time of the fire, the building constructed in 1972 had gone almost three years without a city fire inspection. In the aftermath, investigators cited more than 40 fire code violations, including the sealed rear exit and a faulty fire alarm system.

Orozco and former Alpine manager Malinda Mier each face six criminal counts of involuntary manslaughter, along with multiple other felony charges, in connection with the fire.

Lawyers for Orozco and Mier did not immediately respond to request for comment on Tuesday.

Duncan’s suit claimed that at some point before the fire, Casteel “ordered” Bennett to bolt the back door closed, which later prevented residents from escaping the blaze.

In a lawsuit filed last month by Orozco, the former owner claimed Casteel “directed and participated in bolting the rear door.” That suit did not mention Bennett.

Several witnesses told investigators that Bennett, a disabled Marine Corps veteran, helped save residents the morning of the fire, pounding on doors and waking people up. Fire crews found him unresponsive at the bottom of the back stairwell, where police records indicate he was trying to get the door open.

Bennett’s family declined to comment on Tuesday.

Duncan’s suit also echoed prior claims that EDS Electronics Inc., which monitored the building’s fire alarm system with the help of California-based National Monitoring Center, failed to notify anyone that the alarm had been malfunctioning since Nov. 28, 2018, when the system was triggered and improperly reset.

Orozco has claimed EDS did not notify him of the malfunctioning alarm, but the company’s manager, Erin Stevens, has testified that the company was unable to contact Orozco.

The companies did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Meanwhile, Orozco also filed another lawsuit on Monday, this time against insurance brokers who sold him a $1 million insurance policy for the building.

In July 2019, insurance broker Luis Vargas Soto renewed the policy, but he did not “consult with plaintiffs about the coverages or monetary limits contained within the policy,” Orozco’s lawyers, Edward Boyack and Patrick Orme, wrote in the complaint.

“Defendants breached their obligations under the contract by procuring insurance coverage which was limited to $1,000,000 for the insured premises and failing (to) explain the ramifications of this to plaintiffs,” according to the lawsuit.

Soto declined to comment on Tuesday.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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