Jackie Hisle Jr.’s voice cracked through the jailhouse phone Monday as he struggled to explain how smoking near his oxygen tank might have ignited a massive blaze at his apartment building that killed his son and two others.
“I regret it all, especially my son,” he said in a telephone interview from jail three days after the fire. “I loved him dearly. The other two people, they were my good neighbors. I wish to God it hadn’t happened but it did.”
Hisle, 55, is now charged with three counts of manslaughter and held on a $1 million bond. He pleaded not guilty at his initial court appearance Monday.
The overnight fire Friday injured at least five people. Eyewitnesses said they saw flames, 25-feet tall, consuming the building as residents jumped from second-story windows to escape.
Hisle’s 36-year-old son, Donald Hisle, was among the three people who died. His son was his “best buddy,” Hisle said Monday. They fished, camped and watched TV Westerns together, he said.
The other two fire victims were 29-year-old Tina Reynolds and 71-year-old Dixie Everman, according to Clark County Deputy Coroner Sarah Crews.
Reynolds and Hisle died of smoke inhalation. The cause of Everman’s death is still undetermined because she had both smoke inhalation and blunt-force trauma, Crews said. Everman was among those who jumped from the second story to escape the fire and sustained injuries from the fall.
Hisle said he was on his living room couch when the fire ignited. His oxygen tank was in the bathroom, with a hose reaching into the living room, he said.
“I put my oxygen on and somehow it caught on fire,” he said.
Hisle, a former construction worker who is on oxygen due to a lung condition, said he wasn’t sure if the fire might have been sparked by a lit cigarette or a smoldering cigarette in an ash tray.
“I thought the cigarettes were out in the ashtray,” he said.
Hisle said he tried to smother the fire with a pillow and then a blanket. He then tried to turn off the oxygen tank in the bathroom, but the flames and smoke were too intense, he said.
Hisle said his son, who lived with him off and on, was in the bedroom when the fire broke out. He said he hollered at him, trying to alert him, but never heard his son call out. He said he tried to get to his son but the smoke was too intense.
“I was hoping to God that maybe he was trying to get out the window,” Hisle said.
Hisle said he drank two or three beers the night of the fire, but said he wasn’t intoxicated.
Hisle acknowledged he had been warned by neighbors and friends about smoking near the oxygen tank.
“Everybody here has told him, `One of these days, you’re going to blow yourself up,'” Johnny Hill, 28, of Winchester, told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “Anybody with common sense knows you don’t smoke around oxygen. He knew it because everybody in this complex told him.”
Hill was visiting friends in an apartment building next to the one that burned when he heard a “loud boom,” smelled smoke and saw the fire about 1:15 a.m. Friday, the Lexington paper reported.
Hisle is to be represented by a public defender. His next court appearance is set for March 23.