Bail set for 2 charged in Royal Suite Lodge fire
A judge set a half a million dollar bail for two suspects accused of setting fire to a west Anchorage apartment building and leaving three people dead more than a year ago.
On Monday, Andrew Eknaty, 30, and 29-year-old Carleigh Fox were charged on more than 60 counts combined, including multiple charges for murder in the deadly Royal Suite Lodge fire in February 2017.
Anchorage police had sought Eknaty in the case Friday morning, but APD spokeswoman Kendra Doshier said he was arrested just after noon at Peggy's Restaurant on East 5th Avenue near Merrill Field without any tips from the public.
"It was just investigative work," Doshier said.
Eknaty, along with Fox, faces 37 charges including nine counts of murder, along with other offenses including manslaughter, assault and arson in connection with the Royal Suite Lodge blaze which left Vivian Hall, Teuaililo Nua and Laura Kramer dead, according to Anchorage District Attorney Rick Allen’s office. Fox was arrested early Friday morning.
The deadly blaze along Minnesota Drive south of Spenard Road allegedly stemmed from a Feb. 15, 2017 incident in which Fox crashed her vehicle while intoxicated, then eluded police. Eknaty, a passenger in the vehicle, then drove it to the Royal Suites Lodge and parked it under the carport.
“A fire was then started in the passenger compartment of the vehicle in an attempt to destroy evidence of Fox’s eluding,” prosecutors wrote. “Fox and Eknaty left the fire unattended and went to an apartment in the building. Surveillance video shows Eknaty running back to the vehicle less than two minutes later. The two fled the scene without reporting the fire or sounding an alarm.”
Michael Ebell, one of two assistant district attorneys prosecuting the case, said the case was the result of extensive work by experts from numerous agencies, including the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as well as contractors.
“That took time to put together, for everyone to be positive about what everyone’s conclusions were about this fire,” Ebell said. “Also to eliminate scenarios about what [Fox and Eknaty] relayed to the police about what happened, that just didn’t match with what fire investigators learned.”
According to a bail memorandum summarizing the case against Fox and Eknaty, surveillance video shows Fox’s Chevrolet Malibu pulling into the building’s carport at 2:10 a.m. on the morning of the fire, with the defendants leaving two minutes later. At about 2:14 a.m., Eknaty and Fox ran back to the carport.
“Eknaty is seen confronting Fox and then appears to throw snow on the vehicle a couple of times,” prosecutors wrote. “After a few seconds, the two fled the scene without notifying anyone about the fire. The first 911 call was not received until approximately 2:20 a.m. at which time the fire had spread from the vehicle to the west carport to the west end of the Royal Suite Lodge.”
Hall died by thermal injuries from the fire, according to prosecutors, while Nua died after a fall as she tried to escape the blaze and Kramer was killed by smoke inhalation. Many other people were hurt, including a pregnant woman who was medevaced to Seattle after “sustaining significant burns and breaking her back.”
When police spoke with Fox, she allegedly claimed her vehicle had been stolen with its keys, found in the burned Malibu’s ignition, before admitting that she had been “eluding from police while drunk.”
An ATF fire investigator ultimately determined that the fire began in the passenger compartment of the Malibu.
“[The investigator] was able to affirmatively disprove the origin of the fire was an engine fire, contradicting what both Fox and Eknaty told detectives,” prosecutors wrote. “In addition, [the investigator] was able to determine the cause of the fire was incendiary, meaning it was intentionally lit, and was not due to accidental or natural causes.”
Prosecutors sought cash appearance and performance bonds of $500,000 each in the case, based on its severity.
"These actions resulted in the ultimate destruction of the Royal Suite Lodge, the displacement of dozens of people, serious injury to numerous people, the premature birth of one baby, and the deaths of three individuals," prosecutors wrote.
According to Allen's office, the full list of charges against Fox and Eknaty includes:
Nine counts of second-degree murder
Six counts of manslaughter
16 counts of first-degree assault
Two counts of first-degree assault of an unborn child
One count of first-degree arson
One count of conspiracy to commit arson
One count of tampering with physical evidence
One count of failing to report or control a dangerous fire
A trial is scheduled for November 13.