The sister-in-law of one of six residents found dead after a Las Vegas apartment building fire filed a wrongful death lawsuit Wednesday against the property owner, who officials say had been been cited in the past over missing smoke alarms and an emergency exit that was bolted shut.
The suit filed by attorneys for Deborah Cihal Crawford, next-of-kin of victim Tracy Ann Cihal, is the first after the Dec. 21 fire that also injured 13 people at the aging Alpine Motel Apartments. Fire officials said people jumped from third-story windows to escape thick smoke.
Residents at the downtown site had complained about substandard conditions, and told firefighters they used kitchen stoves to stay warm because the building lacked heat.
City fire and code enforcement reports released Tuesday listed defects in the fire alarm system, fire doors that did not close properly, and security bars that lacked emergency releases.
Attorney Dominic Gentile, representing property owner Adolfo Orozco and his company, Las Vegas Dragon Hotel LLC, didn’t immediately respond to messages about the fire and code enforcement reports or the lawsuit filed in Clark County District Court.
The legal action also claims negligence and seeks unspecified damages greater than $50,000.
In a statement, Deborah Crawford’s attorneys, Ben Wilson and Rahul Ravipudi, called the injuries and deaths inexcusable, preventable and the result of “pure indifference to human life.”
“The owners and managers of the Alpine … appear to have been far more concerned about taking money from their tenants than they were about their safety,” the lawyers said. “The most basic, minimum standards of living and habitability were denied to our client and other victims of this tragedy.”
Fire officials said the fire apparently started around a stove in a first-floor apartment before dawn after a night with outdoor temperatures in the 40s.
Officials said about 50 people lived at the 41-unit complex. It was built in 1972 and is now near a downtown entertainment district that includes bars and bistros, offices, storefront churches and vacant lots.
Fire spokesman Tim Szymanski said three people were found dead in the building and three others outside after the fire was extinguished. They ranged from 46 to 72. It wasn’t immediately clear if anyone died falling or jumping from windows.
Las Vegas police opened a homicide investigation and have not disclosed preliminary findings. Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson declined Wednesday to comment.
It was the deadliest fire in Las Vegas since 1980, when 87 people died and more than 700 were injured in a blaze at the MGM Grand Hotel, now Bally’s, on the Las Vegas Strip.
Associated Press writer Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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