Anger & Alcohol

Thursday , November 02, 2006, Reno, Nevada

Hotel workers and neighbors, who described Moore as “nice” and a “good tenant,” said she had been drinking and may have lost control after an argument with another tenant. Moore was booked into the Washoe County Jail on suspicion of first-degree arson and six counts of first-degree murder. She also faced a parole violation charge, sheriff’s Deputy Brooke L. Keast said. Police said 60 to 80 people were inside the 84-year-old, recently renovated hotel when the fire started. It quickly engulfed the north wing of the hotel, near Harrah’s casino. None of the downtown high-rise hotel-casinos were threatened. Firefighters said they did not know of anyone still missing in the fire, but they had yet to search some areas. The roof collapsed, and authorities said the building would have to be shored up. One hospital reported that two people were hospitalized in critical condition, and a third was flown to a burn center in California.

Keast told The Associated Press she had no immediate details of the original charge against Moore but confirmed that she served time in prison for second-degree murder. State corrections records obtained by the AP show Moore was convicted on Sept. 24, 1987, in Washoe County District Court for a killing in February of that year. She started serving two life sentences on Nov. 5, 1987, but was released on parole in June 2005, state corrections records show. Authorities said Wednesday there was no record that Moore had hired a lawyer.

Neighbors and hotel workers described Moore as a normally pleasant woman. “She didn’t seem like a crazy person,” said Maxie Birch, 42, who lived down the hall from Moore. “But something happened last night to push her over the edge. She just flipped. I don’t know what caused her to flip.” Steven Purcell, 53, the hotel’s front desk clerk, said Moore asked him to escort her from a nearby liquor store to the hotel late Tuesday afternoon.

“She was a really good tenant. She just had way, way too much to drink yesterday, causing trouble all day,” said Sharon Steele, the hotel’s general manager. It was Reno’s deadliest fire since 1962, when six people died at the Golden Hotel, said fire department spokesman Steve Frady. He said the Mizpah had smoke alarms but not sprinklers, which was allowed by city code because of the building’s age.

The Mizpah was built in 1922 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Fire officials said they did not know whether the building could be saved. “It was just gorgeous, and now it’s all gone,” said Steele. “It’s a brick building. I don’t know why it burned so fast.”

Friday , January 19, 2007, RENO, Nevada

The woman accused of killing 12 people by setting Reno’s deadliest hotel fire pleaded guilty to all charges Friday in a deal that will allow her to avoid the death penalty. Valerie Moore, 47, a casino cook, had been charged with 12 counts of murder and one count of arson for setting fire to a mattress Halloween night after arguing with another resident at the historic Mizpah Hotel near the downtown casino district.

Moore faces life without parole on each of the 12 murder charges, and five to 15 years in state prison on the felony arson charge. The sentences are to run consecutively. Sentencing was set for March 16.

Moore’s public defenders say Moore has a history of mental illness. Investigators say all 12 victims died of asphyxiation from smoke and soot, and 31 people other were injured. The Oct. 31 blaze gutted the 84-year-old brick building, which served largely as a residential hotel.

During a preliminary hearing last month, one tenant testified that Moore was angry and intoxicated when she threatened him earlier that night.

Before the plea, Moore had been scheduled to go to trial in January 2008. Moore was paroled in 2005 after serving 17 years in prison for second-degree murder. Prosecutors said she killed a woman who had spurned Moore’s sexual advances and argued with her over money.

The death toll at the Mizpah doubled two other deadly fires, a 1962 blaze at the Golden Hotel and 1879’s “Great Fire of Reno,” which each killed six people. The recently renovated hotel, built in 1922 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, was equipped with smoke alarms but was not required to have sprinklers.