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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Injured Tenant Blames Managers for Arson Fire

BRIGHTON, Colo. (CN) - A woman who jumped from her fourth-floor apartment to escape a fatal arson fire claims in court that managers failed to protect her from the bizarre resident who set the fire.

Alina Raffa sued Fitz Apartments and Fitz 46 LLLP, in Adams County Court.

Raffa broke both feet and all 10 toes when her hallway "was engulfed by the fire," forcing her to jump from her window.

She claims the owners of the Fitz Apartments complex in Aurora let the arsonist live there only after the "unnamed resident," who suffered from mental health problems, threatened to sue them.

The landlords failed to evict him despite numerous complaints about his bizarre behavior, Raffa claims.

She claims the man complained to the building manager that antennae on the roof were affecting his "brainwaves."

When the manager refused to remove the antennae, the tenant poured gasoline in front of the manager's door and set the fire that killed neighbors on both sides of Raffa's apartment, according to the complaint. Two dozen other people were injured.

"On August 6, 2012, there was a fire at the Fitz Apartment building located at 1747 Peoria Street, Aurora, Colorado 80010 where plaintiff resided on the fourth floor (hereinafter referred to as 'the fire')," the complaint states.

"When the plaintiff heard the fire alarm in the hallway outside her door, she opened the door and the hallway was engulfed by the fire, preventing her from safely exiting through the door.

"Plaintiff was forced to jump out of her window on the fourth floor to the ground below to avoid smoke and burn injuries.

"As a result of the fall from her apartment, plaintiff broke both feet, all of her toes, had a burst fracture at L2 in her back and numerous cuts and bruises. She had four surgeries through December 27, 2012. She is continuing to undergo medical care and treatment as well as surgeries for these injuries.

"Plaintiff's neighbors on both sides of her died in the fire, and 25 others were injured. ...

"Upon information and belief, the fire was intentionally set by a tenant (hereinafter 'unnamed resident') who lived in the adjacent building located at 1777 Peoria Street, owned and managed by the Fitz Apartments.

"Upon information and belief, before August 6, 2012, defendant had information that the unnamed resident at the Fitz Apartments had mental health issues, had been on a mental health hospital hold, and was on medication for mental health problems.

"Upon information and belief, before August 6, 2012, defendant rejected unnamed resident's application to lease an apartment at the Fitz Apartments, because of disclosed mental health issues that could potentially pose a safety threat to the other residents.

"Upon information and belief, the unnamed resident threatened to sue the owners and management, so defendant decided to allow the unnamed resident to live at the Fitz Apartments. Prior to allowing the unnamed resident to live at the apartment, defendant failed to conduct any investigation or ensure policies were in place if he became a risk to of harm to other tenants.

"Upon information and belief, before August 6, 2012, defendant had information and knowledge of numerous complaints and the unnamed resident including erratic behavior, harassment of tenants, as well as marijuana and alcohol abuse at the Fitz Apartments. Based on this behavior, defendant threatened to evict this resident numerous times, but failed to contact authorities, warn tenants or take any other precautions to ensure the unnamed resident did not pose a risk of harm to other tenants.

"Upon information and belief, before August 6, 2012, defendant had information and knowledge that its resident manager, Joanne Southard, had an ongoing dispute with the unnamed resident about antennas on the roof of the building, which the unnamed resident claimed were interfering with his computer and his 'brainwaves.' The unnamed resident was angry that management would not remove the antennas.

"On the evening of the fire, August 6, 2012, the unnamed resident was seen in the Fitz Apartments at 1747 Peoria Street by several tenants as he was leaving the building carrying a gas can.

"Upon information and belief, defendant later searched the unnamed resident's apartment and found a gas can in a secret compartment.

"The fire investigators found gasoline in the hallways of the third and fourth floors in spot pours. There was a large 'spot pour' in front of the resident manager's (Joanne Southard) apartment. The fire was ignited in front of the manager's door.

"At the time of the fire, the manager, Joanne Southard, and her son and daughter-in-law were home, but did not hear anything.

"Fire and smoke detectors were in the Fitz Apartment buildings. There was no sprinkler system or other fire suppression system.

"Both Fitz Apartment buildings located at 1747 and 1777 Peoria Street, Aurora, Colorado, were accessible with the same key. As a result, tenants of either building could have access to both buildings.

"At the time of the fire at 1747 Peoria Street, there was no evidence of forced entry, and it is probably that the fire was started by someone with a key to the building.

"Fire investigators have confirmed that the August 6, 2012 fire was intentionally set by the ignition of gasoline in the hallways at 1747 Peoria Street."

Southard is not a party to the complaint.

Raffa seeks damages for negligence, premises liability, and violations of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act.

She is represented by Angela Ekker with Lathrop & Gage in Denver.

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