Updated August 12, 2020 - 11:20 am
A day after a fire at the Alpine Motel Apartments left six dead, owner Adolfo Orozco ordered the building’s manager not to speak to investigators until they had “gotten their stories straight,” according to police reports obtained by the Review-Journal.
For months, Orozco refused to pay for repairs to a rear exit door that had been bolted shut, a focus of the monthslong investigation by police that led to charges against Orozco and his co-defendant Malinda Mier, who said she ran his property management company.
Arrest warrants for the pair detailed their relationships with those who lived and worked at his properties, while painting a picture of charred evidence and those who could not escape the flames and the smoke.
A central figure in the investigation was Jason Casteel, who had managed the apartments since August 2019 and lived there with his fiancee. He spoke with authorities twice in December and once in February, and police downloaded his cellphone data, which revealed text messages that showed Casteel repeatedly asked to have the rear door fixed.
Along with one count of manslaughter for each of the six victims, Orozco and Mier face 15 counts of performance of an act or neglect of duty in disregard of safety resulting in substantial bodily harm or death. Casteel was not charged.
Casteel said he needed approval from Orozco, also known as Orozco-Garcia, to buy anything, even “cleaning supplies at the dollar store,” and that Orozco refused to spend any money on maintenance because he was trying to sell the building.
“He felt caught between the residents wanting repairs done and Orozco-Garcia refusing to make repairs,” the reports stated. “Casteel believed if he would have done any repairs without authorization Orozco-Garcia would have fired him.”
The text messages showed that “the maintenance and management seem to have no authority to correct any problems or make any changes to the property without Orozco-Garcia’s express authorization.”
At one point, Orozco told Casteel to evict a tenant, Eddie Mikell, who was suspected of breaking the door. Mikell, whose wife, Cynthia, died in the fire, denied that he had broken the door.
“Repairing the door was not addressed,” the reports stated. “No one took any steps to fix the door.”
After repeated complaints from residents, Mier held off on a replacement project, the reports stated, and did not tell Orozco that she was trying to find a lower price.
Orozco’s lawyer, Paola Armeni, said she questioned the veracity of Casteel’s statements to police.
“We anticipate that more information will come out that makes him a lot more involved than he’s choosing to be,” Armeni said. “We haven’t held back that we don’t think he’s being truthful.”
Orozco also faces four counts of preventing or dissuading witness or victim from reporting crime or commencing prosecution with use of a deadly weapon.
Police said Casteel described Orozco “as an intimidating figure. He carried a handgun on his side and often would carry an AK-47 pistol when visiting the hotel or collecting rent. He would rest his hand on, or display a gun, while talking. Casteel said Orozco-Garcia used guns to intimidate people.”
Armeni said she did not think that description warranted the charges.
Casteel told investigators that he was provided no discretionary funds or petty cash for repairs, much less the door that “had been rendered inoperable using three lag bolts into the locking side of the door frame,” the report stated.
Refrigerators and a vending machine “substantially reduced the width of the hallway” where 61-year-old Cynthia Mikell tried to escape.
The reports point to a stove top in Apartment 8 as the point of origin for the fire and described how each of the six victims, including Mikell, were found.
In 25 of the apartments, residents claimed smoke detectors did not work, and there were no heaters or broken heaters in 19 apartments, the reports stated. Fifteen of the residents said they used the stove or oven to heat their apartments “because they had no other option.”
Tenants described frantic moments as the fire raged.
Floyd Guenther, who survived, told police he pulled fire alarms that didn’t work. He ran through the building, yelling “fire,” and stumbled as he passed three children and helped them out. Once they escaped, he tried to rush back for his neighbor, 46-year-old Kerry Baclaan.
“But he could not reach her because the fire was too close to him, and it was incredibly hot,” the reports said he told investigators. “She begged him to get her out, but he couldn’t because the fire was hot and blocked his way. He held the front door open until the heat of the flames was too much for him.”
Contact David Ferrara at dferrara @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.
Arrest warrants for Adolfo Orozco and Malinda Mier described the deaths of six people killed in the December fire at the Alpine Motel Apartments:
— Refrigerators and a vending machine “substantially reduced the width of the hallway” where 61-year-old Cynthia Mikell tried to escape.
— Francis “Frank” Lombardo, 72, had lived alone at the Alpine, and “took shelter int he bathtub, hoping to be rescued by fire fighters.” He was found “dressed only in a robe and a pair of his eye glasses clutched in his hand.”
— Tracy Cihal, 57, who used a walker, lived in Apartment 7. She had sought legal help against Orozco a week before the fire.
— The body of Henry Pinc, 70, who lived in Apartment 14, was found in the road, “overcome by smoke after trying to help other residents escape the fire.”
— Donald Bennett, 63, a maintenance man who lived in Apartment 23 “was last seen working on the rear door near the stairwell, trying to get it open to save people.”
— Kerry Baclaan, 46, lived alone in Apartment 33, was last seen “carrying her suitcase around the building as the motel filled with smoke.”
David Ferrara/Las Vegas Review-Journal