51°F
weather icon Mostly Cloudy

Las Vegas woman died in Alpine Motel fire steps from bolted door

Updated December 24, 2019 - 11:04 pm

Five steps.

Even with her walker, that’s likely all it would have taken for 61-year-old Cynthia Mikell to get out of the burning three-story apartment building alive early Saturday.

“She would have been the first person out of the building,” Jeremy Gordon, Mikell’s 18-year-old nephew, said in an interview on Christmas Eve.

Mikell lived in unit No. 13 on the ground floor of the aging Alpine Motel Apartments in downtown Las Vegas, the unit closest to the rear exit.

But the door was bolted shut. Mikell was trapped.

Her body would later be found in the hallway near the back door, according to Gordon. She was one of six people killed in the deadliest residential fire in the city’s history. She was so badly burned, it took at least two days for investigators to identify her.

The five other victims were identified Tuesday by the Clark County coroner’s office as Henry Lawrence Pinc, 70; Tracy Ann Cihal, 57; Francis Lombardo Jr., 72; Donald Keith Bennett, 63; and Kerry Baclaan, 46.

The coroner’s office said it could take up to two months to determine the cause and manner of death for the victims.

The blaze left 13 more injured — five critically, including a pregnant woman — and nearly 50 people without a home the week before Christmas.

Maintenance concerns

On Monday, Las Vegas Fire Marshal Robert Nolan said the fire was likely accidental and started in a stove in a first-floor unit, though Metropolitan Police Department homicide detectives are investigating.

Residents told investigators that the 41-unit building, built in 1972, did not have heat and that tenants often used their stoves for warmth in the colder months. Other residents have said their smoke detectors were not functional.

Cihal, another victim, had sought legal help against the complex’s owner, Adolfo Orozco, the week before the fire.

She was concerned about habitability issues and wanted to withhold her rent, said Scotti Hughes, who had been with Cihal about four hours before she died and considered her a “second mom.”

Cihal’s concern centered on a bathroom leak that lasted more than a week and had flooded her main living area. She asked management to address the leak more than once, Hughes said, but her requests were ignored.

Between Dec. 18 and 20, Cihal went to a legal aid center for advice. She also was concerned that her unit had no working smoke detector, Hughes said, and whenever Cihal cooked, the apartment would fill with smoke, forcing her to kick on her A/C and open a window.

“She was a hard-working woman who was a widow and disabled, but it was a roof over her head,” Hughes said of Cihal and the shoddy apartment she had been living in since September. “It was a place to call her own.”

Cihal came home with instructional paperwork and intended to submit a formal complaint to management Saturday, when the deadly fire erupted before dawn. Her body was found in the first-floor hallway, not far from Mikell’s.

Attempts to reach Orozco since the fire have been unsuccessful, and a Tuesday afternoon email to his attorney was not immediately returned.

‘Follow my voice’

Mikell lived two doors down from Gordon and his parents.

On the afternoon before the fire, Gordon stuffed a change of clothes in a backpack and boarded a city bus to North Las Vegas to spend the weekend at his best friend’s house.

“It’s like God was watching over me,” he said Tuesday.

Gordon was asleep when the fire erupted and was woken up by a frantic call from his mother, Laura Edwards, at 4:12 a.m.

Edwards had just gotten home from gambling at El Cortez when she encountered smoke pouring out of the building. She rushed inside, Gordon said, but the thick black smoke in the hallway blinded and choked her.

Somehow, though, she had managed to get to their apartment. She pushed the front door open, yelling to her sleeping husband, “Randy, follow my voice. Follow my voice.”

At the same time, Mikell emerged from the blanket of smoke in the hallway. Edwards, determined to lead the two out of the building, traced her hands along the walls of the hallway toward the front door.

“But when she got out,” Gordon said of his mother, “they weren’t behind her.”

Overcome by the smoke, her husband retreated back into their apartment, hoping to escape through a window. His hand on Mikell’s walker, according to Gordon, he told her, “Keep walking. Just keep walking.”

When he reached the bedroom window, Mikell was gone.

Survivor’s guilt

For the next two days, Mikell’s family and Hughes called hospitals across the valley, hoping Cihal and Mikell had survived.

Hughes, who had even called the coroner’s office on Saturday trying to track down Cihal, resorted to filling out a missing person’s report Sunday.

In a lobby at Metro headquarters, the coroner’s office called Hughes back. A woman whose approximate height, age and medical history matched Cihal’s was dead. Gordon’s coroner call came Monday.

“It was heartbreaking. I didn’t want to believe it at first,” he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Tuesday.

Mikell was like a second mother to him. Since he was born, she had always lived close by.

The two were so close that, at night, Mikell often left her front door cracked open, knowing that her nephew liked to check on her periodically throughout the night.

“She was good, kind,” Gordon said. “She would give until she had no more.”

As of Tuesday, residents had not been allowed back into their apartments. Gordon, who suspects the family lost most if not all of their belongings in the fire, struggled to shake his guilt ahead of his first Christmas without his aunt.

“I should have been there,” he said. “And I know I would have died, because I cared about everyone in that building. I would have tried to get them out.”

Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter. Contact Rachel Crosby at rcrosby@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3801. Follow @rachelacrosby on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Local Videos
Elderly woman robbed in Fremont elevator - VIDEO
An elderly woman was robbed in an elevator on the 300 block of Fremont Street. Video courtesy of Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Preview Las Vegas 2020
Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, hints at new branding slogan for Las Vegas, which will no longer be “What happens here, stays here.” The new slogan will be unveiled Sunday Jan. 19 during the Grammy's.
Wrong-way driver causes fatal crash near Las Vegas airport, authorities say - VIDEO
A suspected impaired motorist driving the wrong way on the Airport Connector caused a crash that killed another driver near McCarran International Airport early Friday morning, Jan. 17, 2020, according to law enforcement. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police detail officer-involved shooting
LVMP identified the officer and show body cam video of the officer who discharged his weapon at a suspect accused of shooting his mother at a credit union, Friday.
1 person killed in wrong-way crash near Las Vegas airport - VIDEO
A wrong-way driver struck another vehicle, killing that driver, on the Airport Connector near McCarran International Airport early Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Alpine fire first responders recognized
MedicWest paramedic Miranda Smith describes the the scene when first responders arrived at the Alpine Motel Apartments fire.
The car that Tupac was shot in is for sale - VIDEO
The vehicle that legendary rapper Tupac Shakur was riding in when he was shot after a boxing match in Las Vegas is up for auction. The black 1996 BMW 7 Series is listed by Celebrity Cars Las Vegas for $1.75 million. (Angus Kelly/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
SUV crashes into art piece at Eastern and 215 Beltway - VIDEO
Artwork of a giant head was sent rolling when an SUV slammed into the artwork installed on a median at Eastern Avenue and the 215 Beltway in the southern Las Vegas Valley on Saturday morning, Jan. 11, 2020. (B.J. Calomay)
Alpine residents struggle to find new housing after fire - VIDEO
Many residents displaced by the Alpine Motel Apartments fire in downtown Las Vegas say they are struggling to find long-term solutions in a region where affordable housing is in short supply. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Biden meets with Vegas Latino community - VIDEO
Presidential candidate Joe Biden met with members of the Latino community at Rancho High School. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Margaret Rudin's first interview after release from prison
Convicted killer Margaret Rudin maintains her innocence in her first interview after spending 20 years in a Las Vegas prison for the murder of her husband, Ron Rudin.
Locals cheer on James Holzhauer at 'Jeopardy!' watch party - VIDEO
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But James Holzhauer would have a better chance at winning “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” tournament if Ken Jennings would stop copying his aggressive betting strategy. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Henderson, other Nevada cities consent to refugee resettlement - VIDEO
Henderson will continue to welcome refugees for resettlement, according to a December letter from Mayor Debra March. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ceremony held for Elvis artist Trent Carlini - VIDEO
A ceremony was held for Elvis impersonator Trent Carlini on Wednesday night at The Space in Las Vegas. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas bus attack caught on video
Video released Metro shows two men talking on a bus on Dec. 13, 2019. A few seconds into the video, the younger man stands up and punches the older man in the face. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Fire at Bella Vite Apartments in central Las Vegas - VIDEO
No one was injured in a fire at Bella Vita Apartments, near West Flamingo Road and South Decatur Boulevard, early Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
North Las Vegas police release details of first fatal officer-involved shooting of 2020 - VIDEO
North Las Vegas Police Chief Pamela Ojeda discusses details of the departments first fatal officer-involved shooting for 2020. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
One person injured in car crash outside Dutch Bros - VIDEO
One person suffered minor injuries in a crash Monday morning outside a southern Las Vegas coffee shop that left one vehicle on its side and another propped up on the overturned car. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas resorts welcome dogs to stay
Las Vegas properties are welcoming dogs more than ever. MGM Resorts International announced a new dog-friendly program across all of its Las Vegas properties in December. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
CES 2020 Sex Tech
What sex technology to look out for this year at CES 2020 Las Vegas
Las Vegas police respond to multi-vehicle crash with serious injuries - VIDEO
Las Vegas police are responding to a multi-vehicle with serious injuries near a Henderson park on Wednesday evening. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
2020 New Year's baby born at Sunrise Hospital - VIDEO
Marquis Johnson Sr. and Latasha Atkinson talk about their newborn baby, Marquis Jr., at Sunrise Children's Hospital in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. Marquis Jr. was born a few seconds past midnight to be the first baby of 2020 at Sunrise. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Palos Verdes fire on New Year's Day - VIDEO
A fire broke out in an apartment building on Palos Verdes near Spring Mountain Road in central Las Vegas early Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2010. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Year’s Fireworks on the Las Vegas Strip - VIDEO
Fireworks explode over the Las Vegas Strip to celebrate the new year of 2020. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Crowds gather at Bellagio fountains on New Year's Eve - VIDEO
Aaron Drawhorn talks live with people in front of the Bellagio fountains on New Year's Eve.
Final farewells to Alpine Motel Hero
Family members and friends say their final farewells to Don Bennett, a maintenance man and hero of the Alpine Motel Apartments fire, following a funeral service at Heritage Mortuary on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, in North Las Vegas.
A decade on the Las Vegas Strip in 75 seconds
A look back at 10 years of happenings on the Las Vegas Strip.
Musk 'hopeful' for 2020 completion of underground Las Vegas project - VIDEO
Elon Musk tweeted Friday night that The Boring Company’s underground tunnel project in Las Vegas will be “hopefully fully operational” within the next year. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Woman fatally shot man during attempted burglary
A homeowner in a residential area near Warm Springs Road and Spencer Street shot a man who had broken into her home on Saturday, December 28, 2019. The man, who was in his 30s, died at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
National Weather Service issues winter storm watch for Cajon Pass - VIDEO
The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch for Cajon Pass that could impact travel on I-15 between Las Vegas and Southern California from late Sunday night through Tuesday morning. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Downtown Vegas Alliance
Volunteers through the Downtown Vegas Alliance sort donations for Alpine Motel fire victims on Saturday at the Mob Museum. (Julie Wootton-Greener/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Man critically wounded in Las Vegas bus stop shooting - VIDEO
A man was in critical condition Friday afternoon after he was shot at a bus stop on Boulder Highway in southeast Las Vegas, police said. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Fremont Street is getting a new LED sign - VIDEO
The Fremont Street Experience is planning to add an LED sign that pays tribute to downtown Las Vegas’ history. The 430-square-foot sign is set to be built on the east side of Main Street and Fremont Street. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ethel M Chocolates cactus garden lit for Christmas - Video
The 26th Annual Ethel M Chocolates Cactus Garden Lighting in Henderson, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. The garden will be open until 10 p.m. daily through the holidays. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Therapy dogs dress up for Halloween at Poets Walk Henderson - Video
Therapy dogs dress up for a Halloween costume contest at the Poet's Walk Henderson Memory Care facility. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Close associate of MLK found 2nd home at Las Vegas school

The idea that education can break down socioeconomic barriers has been a driving force in Robert Green’s life, having first drawn him to work for Martin Luther King, Jr. and later informing his enthusiasm for assisting Matt Kelly Elementary School.