Weeks could pass before any former residents of the Alpine Motel Apartments will be allowed to retrieve belongings that they were forced to abandon as they escaped a December fire that killed six.
The news came in a court hearing Tuesday, where attorneys and a Clark County judge were meant to decide on a plan for residents to retrieve those items, including cash, medication, photographs and personal documents.
Several residents were frustrated that it could take additional weeks to get their things. They were also upset that, during the hearing, they never got a chance to testify.
“We were like a family, and now we’re dispersed everywhere,” former resident Timothy Henry, 38, said after the hearing. “We thought we were going to come in, and they were going to tell us when we could all get together and know what’s going on.”
Retor Jones, another resident, said he wanted to “get this over with.”
“Because seeing it on TV, it’s bringing back bad, emotional feelings, you know — psychological,” said Jones, 65.
The Alpine is owned by Las Vegas Dragon Hotel LLC, and state records list a man named Adolfo Orozco as its managing member. Following the Dec. 21 fire, which also left 13 injured and dozens displaced, a criminal investigation was opened, looking into possible negligence.
Before anyone is allowed to collect items, District Judge Rob Bare said Tuesday, he needs confirmation that Las Vegas police and Las Vegas Fire Department investigators have finished collecting evidence from the property.
The judge also noted that there is a duty to preserve any remaining evidence that could be pertinent to future lawsuits.
Once that is complete, residents should be allowed to collect their things, Bare said, as long as a plan is in place for asbestos remediation, since the property — built in 1972 — has tested positive for asbestos.
After the fire, inspectors noted more than 40 potential fire code violations, including a rear exit door that was bolted shut from the outside. As of this week, no criminal charges have been filed.
The family of one of the victims, Tracy Cihal, filed a wrongful death suit in January.
As the process moves forward, Bare also asked for “patience” and “understanding” from about a dozen former residents who came to the hearing.
Attorney Robert Eglet, who has not filed a lawsuit yet but is representing at least 38 former Alpine residents, said Tuesday that he will work to ensure a third-party inspection is completed within the next two weeks.
That will give attorneys on both sides a better idea of how to proceed, Eglet said.
Bare also suggested that all items inside the Alpine be removed, cataloged and stored at a separate location so that residents can retrieve their things in a “safe environment” without having to step foot in the Alpine again.
“I think they’ve been through enough in an unsafe environment,” he said.
But after the hearing, several residents took issue with the idea that their items could be moved without their supervision or consent — again upset that they were not allowed to voice their concerns.
“I thought we were going to come here today, and they were going to make it suitable so we can go in and get our stuff in a timely fashion and a timely manner,” Henry said. “I did not know that they were going to go and box our stuff up and then take it to another location. They don’t know what’s really ours.”
Jones questioned what would be collected and what could potentially be discarded.
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” he said. “The only person that knows what’s inside my apartment is me, me and me. For them to take my stuff somewhere else, that’s not right.”
Audrey Palmer, another former resident, flipped through photos of her old apartment on her phone, concerned that others may claim those items as theirs, or that all that Alpine items might get mixed up.
“Everything in here is mine,” she said, frustrated. “That’s mine.”
Once attorneys have a plan in place that considers Bare’s priorites, the judge is expected to review and approve it.