Nearly three years after the deadliest residential fire in Las Vegas history, plaintiffs in a complex lawsuit may be close to seeing a resolution.
“It’s getting close, but it’s just not quite there yet,” attorney Robert Eglet said in a recent interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Eglet represents many of the dozens of plaintiffs in civil proceedings filed after the Dec. 21, 2019, fire at the Alpine Motel Apartments in downtown Las Vegas. The fire left six dead, 13 injured and nearly 50 people without shelter.
At least 15 lawsuits filed in the aftermath of the deadly blaze have been consolidated into a single case naming nearly 20 defendants, including the building’s former owner, Adolfo Orozco; his wife, Erika Ayala; and companies accused of failing to maintain the building’s fire alarm system.
The parties have gone through multiple rounds of mediation this year in an attempt to reach a settlement, court records show. Eglet told the Review-Journal that he believes a resolution is likely in the coming weeks, but the sheer number of plaintiffs is making it difficult to compensate everyone.
“The amount of insurance available is unfortunately not enough to fully compensate all the plaintiffs completely, so there has to be a compromise,” he said.
Orozco’s civil attorney, Steven Jaffe, declined to comment on the case.
When the blaze broke out in the downtown apartment building, the Alpine’s back door was bolted shut, the fire alarm system was malfunctioning and the building did not have a working sprinkler system, according to multiple lawsuits.
At the time of the fire, it had been almost three years since the building had undergone a city fire inspection. Investigators found more than 40 fire code violations in the building, which was constructed in 1972, including the sealed rear exit and a faulty fire alarm system.
The lengthy civil proceedings also have been complicated by multiple plaintiffs who stopped replying to attorneys and did not appear for deposition hearings, court records show. Many survivors struggled to find housing after the blaze, and may have left town or changed phone numbers.
Timothy Henry, one of the survivors who lost his home, has landed mostly on his feet, with a steady job and an apartment he shares with his partner. But he still mourns the loss of sentimental belongings and suffers from PTSD symptoms that keep him awake at night.
Repeated talks with attorneys as the lawsuits languish in court have made it difficult to move on, Henry said.
“I got to keep reliving it. I got to keep talking about it, so it’s not getting better,” he said.
Awaiting Supreme Court ruling
In addition to the lawsuits, Orozco and former property manager Malinda Mier face multiple criminal charges, including six counts each of involuntary manslaughter.
Dominic Gentile, who represents Orozco in the criminal proceedings, did not reply to a request for comment. Mier’s criminal and civil attorneys also did not reply to requests for comment.
The preliminary hearing in the case has been on hold for nearly two years, since Don Dibble, a member of Gentile’s investigative team, was held in contempt of court after refusing to testify. Attorneys have been waiting for the Supreme Court to decide if Dibble can be compelled to testify about a conversation he had with Mier, who is not represented by Gentile.
During the preliminary hearing, Dibble declined to answer questions about an interview he conducted with Mier, in which she “essentially confessed to her involvement in the crimes charged,” court records state.
Chief Deputy District Attorney John Giordani has argued that Dibble’s report regarding the interview is admissible as evidence.
Giordani declined to comment on the case this week.
Last month, the Supreme Court filed documents indicating that the appeal would not be scheduled for oral arguments. It remains unclear when the high court will issue a decision on the case.