SAN ANTONIO --“He was a very special person. Well, of course we were shocked. You never expect anything like that to happen,” said Billy Stull, Jr., father of 42-year old Billy Gene Stull.
Stull said he will remember Billy Gene as he was in his modeling days, before a brain injury left him disabled and living at the Amistad residence.
The fire that broke out Wednesday night claimed Billy Gene’s life and three other men—all boarders at the former assisted-living facility.
Fire investigators say Stull, along with 38-year old Christopher Breese, 65-year old Eddie Lee and 23-year old Jesse Brooks were trapped on the second story of the home, unable to get past the smoke and flames that engulfed the only stairwell and way out.
Fire investigators and code compliance officers are still combing the 2000-square-foot residence for clues to what sparked the flames.
The facility’s owner, Nancy Murrah told KENS-TV that for the last two years the Amistad Residential Facility has been run as a boarding house, with her tenants paying with their disability checks. But before that, Amistad was licensed through the state as an assisted-living facility.
“Every time it passed. It was fine. Everything was fine. I kept it clean, neat. I fed them well. I just don’t know what happened,” said Murrah.
But state records show there were problems. The most recent in 2010, where inspectors found 7 violations at the home - 2 of those violations were for the fire alarm and sprinkler system, and their maintenance.
Amistad never lost its license. Instead, state legislators enacted a law that same year, allowing certain assisted-living facilities like Amistad to operate without a license and without state oversight.
“They had the right zoning. They were multi-family zoning, so they had the right for that kind of zoning,” said Rod Sanchez, the director of Development Services which oversees code compliance.
Investigators say that means the home’s design and exits were all in compliance.
What wasn’t up to date were permits for the addition built in the back.
But even then, city officials said, the home’s owner, Nancy Murrah, was working to fix it.
“They complied with that. They indicated to us that when they were ready to proceed they would come in, submit plans, get their permits and what have you," Sanchez said.
That was 2 years ago, and now a deadly fire has placed those plans on hold, too.
The Stull family says it wasn’t multi-family—but one family of more than a dozen men… cared for by a woman who truly loved them.
“I’m trying to not to focus on the problem and the what-if’s, but I’m trying to think about all the good things she did for my son and for the other people that are there,” said Stull.