Family injured in Royal Suite Lodge fire files lawsuit against property owner
It's been more than two years since the horrific Royal Suite Lodge fire. Flames and smoke, that would later be deemed the result of arson, tore through an entire apartment building killing three people and injuring several others.
Signs of that night have since faded. The building has been replaced and new tenants have moved in. But those who lived through the ordeal say the pain — both physical and emotional — is still part of everyday life.
One family has now filed a civil lawsuit against the property owner, Jinbo LLC.
Feb. 15, 2017, is a day they're not likely to forget.
"No fire alarm sounded," Andrew Engelking said during an interview with the American Red Cross of Alaska. "I heard what I thought was a fight or something going outside. My wife came running out of the bedroom with the same thought, so I went to the door, twisted the door handle, got blown back."
The flames had reached the family's third floor unit, he said, blocking off every possible exit but a single window at the back of the apartment.
"It was just like this black, orange death coming after you," Engelking said.
He told his story in advance of the organization's 2018 Real Heroes Breakfast event, where he was honored for saving his family — two little boys and his wife, Katie, who was 26 weeks pregnant on the night of the fire.
"She said, 'You need to jump, you need to go and you need to catch these children,'" he recalled. "To leave them up there was the hardest thing I've ever had to do."
Andrew jumped first.
His right leg snapped.
He then caught his 2-year-old and 10-year-old boys before breaking his pregnant wife's three-story fall.
In February 2019, two years after the fire, the family filed its lawsuit against Jinbo LLC. The company filed its response to the complaint this month. A representative of attorney Michael Flanigan, who is representing the Engelking family, said neither Flanigan nor the family would speak with KTVA due to ongoing litigation.
The civil complaint, however, details the physical and emotional scars the family says they still live with today.
It says the jump from the third-story window, compounded with efforts to catch his family, left Andrew with a severely broken leg. He had to undergo surgery in which doctors installed a plate and five screws in his leg, followed by physical therapy and wearing a leg brace for a year.
"Despite surgery, Andrew's right leg is deformed, swollen and always throbbing in pain. He still walks with a cane at times," the complaint reads.
Katie suffered second- and third-degree burns over a large portion of her body, according to the lawsuit. She also suffered a spinal injury: two compression fractures at T12-L1.
"Due to smoke inhalation, her pregnancy and her injuries the doctors decided to intubate her and place her in a chemically induced coma and deliver her unborn baby via C-section at 26 weeks. As a result the child had to be placed in the pediatric ICU. The doctors then performed an operation on Katie to stabilize her back, which required the installation of two rods at T12-L1, followed by physical therapy."
According to the complaint, Katie still deals with chronic pain.
The document also details the psychological effects the fire had on their children: post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety over being separated from their parents and difficulty sleeping. One of them had to leave school.
The other will only sleep if he is in bed with his parents and wearing shoes.
The lawsuit says there were negligent fire hazards at the property, including a wooden structure over vehicles, where the fire started, wooden walkways and stairs serving as the only second- and third-floor exits, a lack of heat-activated sprinklers, and a lack of a central fire alarm system.
"JINBO negligently failed to take appropriate actions to protect occupants of the known hazards associated with the lack of sprinklers in occupied rooms and the known hazards of the failure to have a central alarm system that notified all tenants if a fire was detected in any room or rooms in the building.
On information and belief JINBO negligently caused the central alarm system for Royal Suites Lodge buildings to only have individual smoke detectors in individual units, which if activated only sounded an alarm in the room in which it was located.
On information and believe, JINBO negligently caused the exterior fire alarm witches to not be adequately protected resulting in false alarms which decreased the efficacy of exterior alarms."
In a response filed this month by the company's attorney, Daniel Quinn, Jinbo argues the family was "comparatively negligent," that the company was in compliance with applicable codes and any injuries or damages were caused by whoever set the fire.
"Any injuries or damages sustained by plaintiffs may have been caused by individuals over whom the defendant has no control," the company argues in the document.
The response is referencing 30-year-old Carleigh Fox and 30-year-old Andrew Eknaty, who were charged with more than 60 counts combined, including multiple charges for murder, in the investigation into the fatal fire.
KTVA previously reported:
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.”
Quinn was out of the office and could not be reached for comment for this report. Court records show he filed a motion on April 4 demanding a trial by jury.
Online records show Fox and Eknaty were added to the civil suit as third-party defendants on April 10.
Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.