The family of a mother and daughter killed in a Lakewood apartment fire in 2022 is suing the apartment owner, property management company and two teenagers charged with starting the fire for wrongful death.
Kathleen Payton, 31, and her 10-year-old daughter Jazmine Payton-Aguayo died in the Oct. 31 fire at Tiffany Square Apartments, which was started by two teenagers.
Payton’s adoptive mother, Mary Jo Portales, and Jazmine’s father, Rogelio Aguayo, filed the lawsuit in Denver district court on Monday.
The lawsuit provides new details about the fire at 935 Sheridan Blvd. that killed Payton and Jazmine and injured 10 others in the early hours of Oct. 31.
A 12-year-old boy and 14-year-old boy were arrested for starting the fire and charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, arson and criminal mischief. The older boy, now 15, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to seven years in the Colorado Department of Human Services Division of Youth Services.
According to the complaint, the two boys were runaways who were staying in one of the apartments when they got into a fight with the apartment owner and were asked to leave around 1 a.m.
The boys roamed the neighborhood before returning to the apartment complex at 4 a.m. and setting a large evergreen bush on fire that was located next to the apartment where they had been staying. The boys then got trash from a nearby dumpster and threw it on the bush to make it bigger.
“As the fire burned they giggled and laughed and watched the fire grow and enjoyed the chaos they started, they did nothing to warn anyone of the fire or help anyone escape the fire,” the lawsuit states.
The fire traveled up to a wooden walkway on the second floor, which caused “an impenetrable wall of fire in front of (Payton and Jazmine’s) front door,” according to the complaint.
Payton and Jazmine were woken by the screams of other tenants trying to get out of their apartments and Payton called 911 and tried to open her front door to escape. A window in the apartment also faced the walkway that was on fire.
Payton followed directions from an emergency dispatcher to shelter in the bathroom, where she placed Jazmine in the bathtub and covered her with wet towels and held wet towels under the bathroom door to prevent smoke from getting inside. Both died due to smoke and lack of oxygen, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the apartment complex did not have working smoke detectors in common walkways, did not have a working fire alarm system and did not have a working fire prevention system to extinguish fire in common areas.
The second-floor wood walkways needed repair, maintenance and painting, according to the lawsuit. Four fire extinguishers attached to the building were not used to put out the fire, and residents were not informed they were there or trained on their use.
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial for the allegations of wrongful death against Avail Property Management and EWGP, LLC, a Florida-based company that owns the apartments. The filing also alleges wrongful death and felonious killing against the two boys who started the fire.
“Defendants EWGP and Avail’s negligence in providing a safe living environment for Kathleen Marie Payton and her daughter Jazmine Marie Payton-Aguayo was the direct and proximate cause of their ultimate death,” the lawsuit claims.
EWGP could not be reached for comment. When reached by phone Wednesday, a vice president at Avail Property Management said they were not aware of the lawsuit before being contacted by a reporter and needed time to review the filing before commenting.
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