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Las Vegas apartment complex where 3 people died failed fire inspection

The Westlake Apartments, a central valley complex where a fire took the lives of an 8-year-old girl and her parents two weeks ago, failed its most recent fire safety inspection.

Records obtained Wednesday by the Las Vegas Review-Journal showed the complex at 813 W. Lake Mead Blvd. failed its annual inspection on May 13, 2016, because of problems with bars on unit windows, rear exits chained shut and outdated fire alarm systems. At least 10 units, including the site of the deadly blaze, shared similar violations, the report said.

DEADLY BLAZE

The Las Vegas Fire Department responded to the complex just before 1 a.m. Jan. 19 and found flames shooting from the apartment’s window. Resident Diana Bankston, 36, and her 8-year-old daughter, Kaysha Ray, died that day. Andrew Ray, 39, was found badly burned and suffering from smoke inhalation just outside of the apartment and died several days later.

Two older daughters escaped by crawling out of a broken window.

The Fire Department has said the fire started in the living room. Earlier news reports said that no smoke alarms were found in the apartment.

Department spokesman Tim Szymanski said Wednesday that he couldn’t speak to the specific case because the investigation was ongoing. A final report on the deadly fire is expected in the next few days.

But Szymanski said failed inspections generally are handled on a case-by-case basis, and the department might respond in different ways depending on the severity of the violation and the occupancy of the building.

“It depends on the circumstances,” he said.

For life-threatening violations — Szymanski used chained gates as an example — the department could go so far as to demand that a building be vacated.

It wasn’t clear Wednesday what steps the city took in response to the failed inspection.

FAILED INSPECTIONS

It wasn’t the first time the complex failed an inspection for these reasons. An annual inspection on Oct. 6, 2011, noted the same violations for the Westlake Lake Mead complex and an adjacent complex on H Street, which has the same owners. Both complexes were purchased in June 2011 by 8Force Assets LLC, a limited liability corporation based in Ventura, California, according to county records.

In a letter to the Las Vegas Fire Department dated January 2012, the complex said it had installed new smoke detectors and made sure the window bars could be opened from the inside. The inspection records released by the city of Las Vegas did not include reports on property inspections from 2012 to 2015.

City communications director David Riggleman said state regulations don’t require fire inspections, but the Fire Department is moving toward a policy in which high-risk buildings would be inspected annually.

Tasha Oliver, who has lived with her daughter in the complex for more than a year, said the management moves slowly on maintenance requests. She said she got a new locking screen door in the days following the fire, but she still has to prop a table against her front door to keep it shut at night.

She said her unit was not equipped with fire extinguishers, so her son had to get some from elsewhere to keep in the home. Many of the buildings were missing exterior fire extinguishers, but a charred extinguisher was still in a box outside Ray and Bankston’s apartment Wednesday night.

Trash littered the yards between the buildings of the complex. A large, torn sofa stood vertically in front of a makeshift memorial for the family. Windows on several buildings were boarded up.

8Force Assets LLC is registered to Alba Baron and several family members. A man who answered a California phone number for Baron referred all questions to the complex’s managers and hung up.

Managers could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

A GIVING FAMILY

Barbara Givens said Andrew Ray, her cousin, was always joking and would fix whatever she needed to be repaired.

“He was always a working man to take care of his kids and his family, like he always do,” Givens said. “When I ask him for something, he takes care of me, too.”

Oliver said the family were some of the first people she met when she moved to Las Vegas seven years ago. She said they always checked in to make sure she and her family had enough to eat. They always made enough to share.

“They took me and my family in, and they helped us a lot,” she said.

Oliver said the family went to Goodwill this past Christmas and bought clothes and toys for all of her children and grandchildren when she couldn’t afford it.

She called the loss “devastating.”

“I wouldn’t last out here without them,” Oliver said. “And they helped everybody around here.”

Review-Journal reporter Jamie Munks contributed to this story. Contact Wesley Juhl at wjuhl@reviewjournal.com and 702-383-0391. Follow @WesJuhl on Twitter. Contact Blake Apgar at bapgar@reviewjournal.com and 702-387-5298. Follow @blakeapgar on Twitter.

This story was updated to clarify the amount missing external fire extinguishers.

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