Smoke and flames consumed an apartment complex in San Marcos almost five years ago. Five residents lost their lives, and seven others were injured.
What nobody expected was that this tragedy could have been prevented.
July 20, 2018
Everything would change for BK and his family on July 20, 2018.
“I was working on the first feature film set that I’d ever worked on, and Hayley was actually supposed to be there, too, but she had decided that she’d rather stay in San Marcos and work,” BK said. “She was staying in my apartment. And I got up for work that morning, rolled over to turn my alarm off. And I saw a text from a friend of mine with a picture of the building on fire.”
The Iconic Village Fire started at about 4:27 a.m. and by the time it was extinguished, five young adults had died.
They are — 20-year-old Dru Estes of San Antonio, 21-year-old Belinda Moats of Big Wells, 19-year-old Haley Frizzell of San Angelo, 21-year-old David Angel Ortiz of Pasadena, and 23-year-old James Phillip Miranda of Mount Pleasant.
“They are more than victims. When you zoom out and look at the whole thing, it’s just a huge… it’s a huge scale. This one building and the ripples of the ripple effects it has on people,” BK said.
An investigation was launched and four months later, investigators shared the cause of the fire, which was something nobody expected to hear.
“This was intentional, it was intentionally set, this was not an accident,” Fred Milanowski, the special agent in charge at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives said.
It was hard for BK to hear that news.
“It’s hard. It’s something that used to eat at me a lot. And I think it’s… it’s not that it doesn’t bother me anymore because it does. When I get to thinking about it, it does. It makes me angry and sad that, you know, that there’s no answers for anybody,” BK said.
The apartment building was built in 1970, it was not required for it to be equipped with a sprinkler system or with smoke alarms.
Not all of the information has been released to protect the ongoing investigation.
“Investigators here know where it was set, and they know how it was set, and obviously either individual or multiple individuals that were there that set it also know that information. And we’re the only ones — the individuals that set it, and us, who know that. So that’s why we’re going to keep that information close to the vest for this investigation,” Milanowski said.
According to Peggy O’Hare, a new task force that includes multiple law enforcement agencies was formed last October to re-examine the case.
The Texas Rangers Cold Case Unit joined.
The task force will re-examine all the evidence, witness statements, and everything else collected so far in the criminal investigation. The panel discusses the case weekly. Investigators continue to follow up on every lead and each tip received from the public.
A reward of up to $110,000 is still being offered for tips leading to the identification or arrest of the person who set the catastrophic fire. Anyone with information can call 1-888-ATF-TIPS or email ATFtips@atf.gov to report possible leads.
Civil lawsuit filed
Peggy O’Hare from the Express-News followed this civil trial closely.
The lawsuit contends that the apartments had unsafe conditions, such as a lack of fire sprinklers, unreliable smoke detectors, and a flawed roof design that fed oxygen to the fire.
That civil action was filed by Miranda’s parents, along with 13 tenants at Iconic Village and the nearby Vintage Pads Apartments.
The corporate owner and various managers of Iconic Village Apartments near Texas State University reached a settlement with the plaintiffs before the trial.
Several other defendants had reached separate agreements as well.
The defendant argued that a man whose girlfriend lived at the complex was to blame, but they had no evidence to support the allegations.
The terms of that settlement are confidential, which is standard protocol.
BK lost his sister his roommate David Ortiz and his friend Zachary suffered third-degree burns to nearly 70 percent of his body and a traumatic brain injury as he fled the burning building.
“The Weight of Ashes”
BK is making a documentary that will be released this year in the film festival circuit.
“I wasn’t going to focus on the unknown criminal. I was just going to talk about the people we lost and the effect they had and what this loss did to people and what the world lost,” BK said. “Number one goal is, I want it to spread out. And I would really, really, really love if the person who did this saw this documentary and feels guilty enough to come forward.”
I want them to learn sort of the same thing I learned. And that’s, you know, treasure the people around you and show love whenever you can,” BK said. “They are more than victims. You know, they’re way more than something that happened over 30 seconds in any of their lives.”
Remembering Haley Frizzell
“She’s my best friend,” BK said. “There’s a lot to say about Hayley. She is a very talented actress, artist in general. She cared about her friends.”
BK Frizzell is talking about his sister Haley Michele Frizzell.
BK and Haley were from San Angelo, they attended Texas State University in San Marcos.
The siblings both had similar interests especially when it came to movies.
“Once she got to Texas State with me, we made a plan for me to be the writer and her to be the director and make a production company together,” BK said. “And so that’s why my production company now is called HMF Productions. It’s her initials.”
Find more true-crime podcasts on the Texas Crime Stories page