A heroic maintenance man who saved numerous lives in the Alpine Motel Apartments fire early Saturday died in the blaze, his family and friends confirmed Monday.
Don Bennett, 63, was a disabled Marine veteran living at the Alpine apartments, 213 N. 9th St. in downtown Las Vegas. When a fire broke out at 4:13 a.m., a maintenance man named Don ran through the burning building, risking his own life, pounding on doors and screaming “fire” in the face of a rolling, relentless black smoke enveloping the hallways, according to witnesses.
Bennett’s actions, the residents said, woke people up and gave them a chance to escape the fire, which killed six. Bennett’s family members confirmed Monday that he was one of the six killed. His daughter was contacted by the Clark County coroner’s office, which as of Monday afternoon had not officially released the names of those killed in the fire.
“He was a Marine, and on top of that, he loved people,” said Bennett’s cousin Ray Bennett, of the Baltimore area. “It is not surprising. Helping people … it was in his DNA.”
Don Bennett’s brother, Charles, and sisters Ruby Russell and Patricia Murphy said in a phone interview Monday that Bennett was born in Goldsboro, North Carolina, in 1956. After high school, he joined the Marine Corps, serving proudly in Okinawa for at least three years.
Bennett had three adult children, two daughters and a son, family members said.
“He was a very devoted father,” Charles Bennett said.
“He was very outgoing and he loved being around people,” Russell said.
Each family member described him as a caring, loving man who gave to others first before thinking of himself. His family is now trying to figure out a way to give Bennett, a man of limited means, a proper burial.
“We would also like to know what the owners of the complex are going to do for the victims, especially those who lost their lives,” Ray Bennett said.
Witnesses described Bennett’s heroism in detail at the scene of the fire.
“The guy … who saved everybody’s life? His name is Don,” said Anthony Meadows Jr., 35, a resident of apartment No. 41 at the Alpine.
Meadows said that if not for Bennett, he and his girlfriend likely wouldn’t have survived. Bennett knocked on Meadows’ door and was then observed racing through halls thick with smoke, banging on doors, urging people to get out just after 4 a.m., he said.
Most of the residents of the complex were sleeping.
“He was the maintenance man,” Meadows said. “He was a veteran. He stayed on the second floor in Apartment No. 25. Don knocked on everyone’s door and said, ‘Fire! Fire! Fire!’”
Resident Floyd Guenther, 46, told a similar account, saying Bennett saved multiple residents during the fire.
“The maintenance guy, Don, he was trying to kick the back stairway doors open, and he couldn’t get them open,” Guenther said. “The back door to the apartment complex was bolted shut, locked up. Couldn’t get out of it.”
The family has created a GoFundMe account to help with Bennett’s burial expenses. Bennett’s daughter was en route to Las Vegas; the family said funeral arrangements are expected to be handled by Davis Funeral Homes.
Bennett’s kindness was well-known up and down Ninth Street.
Tony Carrillo is the manager of the United Mini-Mart at Ogden Avenue and Ninth Street, just a couple of buildings down from the Alpine. Carrillo said Bennett was in the store almost daily.
“He was a really good guy,” Carrillo said. “Very helpful, very polite. I actually used to live there, and whenever I needed something he helped me out.”
Carrillo said he was not surprised Bennett risked his life to help others. Carrillo said Bennett was always putting others first.
Of his late sibling, Charles Bennett said simply, “There are heroes among us.”