Crime & Courts

Man charged in deadly Eagle River apartment fire told investigators he did it ‘to get him a new home’

A fast-moving fire at an Eagle River apartment complex early Saturday killed a married couple, injured two tenants, and left more than a dozen families at least temporarily homeless.

Christopher Ricker, the 29-year-old man accused of starting the fire, told investigators he lit the blaze for attention and to get a new home but didn’t think it would get out of control, according to charging documents filed in Anchorage Superior Court. Ricker faces charges of first- and second-degree murder, first-degree arson and first-degree assault. He had his first court appearance Sunday.

The fire killed Alan Borowski, 68, and 58-year-old Linda Borowski, a couple who rented a second-floor apartment at the complex on Meadow Creek Drive. An adult son lived in a nearby unit, according to someone who knew the couple.

Friends said they were nice people who lived simply.

Linda Borowski was a regular at Eagle River Bingo: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday — every weekend night, said Faye Brogdon, a former employee at the bingo hall. Alan, who was retired, dropped his wife off and picked her up. He’d sit outside and wait until she was done. Linda was always laughing and smiling, Brogdon said. She told funny stories, had her favorite seat, and got upset when she lost. Alan was quieter, but cracked jokes. You could tell he had a sense of humor, Brogdon said.

The news about their deaths came out of nowhere, she said. “We’re all very confused. Nothing makes sense.”

The Borowskis didn’t make it out of the apartment complex, police say. The center of the building, where they lived, was most heavily damaged. Investigators say Ricker told them he started the fire by igniting a trash bag on an outdoor porch located just below the couple’s unit.

There was no immediate indication in court documents that Ricker was targeting the couple, or others in the building.

An adult and child also suffered injuries after they jumped out a second-story window to escape the fire.

The fire displaced 16 families, according to community volunteers soliciting donations for tenants.

Ricker rented an apartment on the second floor near the Borowskis, according to an affidavit filed with charging documents by Detective Jeffrey Elbie.

Multiple 911 calls reporting the fire started just after 2 a.m. Saturday, the affidavit says. One tenant said she smelled smoke, heard a crackling noise, and opened her door to the the staircase engulfed in flames.

She and a juvenile in the apartment “were forced to jump from the second story living room window,” Elbie wrote. The adult suffered a broken wrist, cuts and bruises. The juvenile sprained their wrist.

Tenants yelled and knocked on doors to alert each other about the fire, the affidavit says. Everyone in the complex was able to get out of their apartments except for the Borowskis. Their family members, who lived in apartment #208, said they last saw the couple around 5 p.m. Friday going into their apartment, #204. Ricker was renting #206.

Surveillance video reviewed by investigators showed someone outside the complex. The person “appears to attempt to start a fire multiple times” between apartments #104 and #105, Elbie wrote. About 30 seconds after the fire started, the light in #206 was switched off.

Ricker called 911 at 2:11 a.m. to report the fire had him trapped, according to the affidavit. He was reported evacuated within about 10 minutes.

Police found Ricker at his parents’ home on LeDoux Lane in Eagle River, the document says. He was staying in a pop-up trailer in the driveway.

Ricker was awaiting trial on two municipal cases at the time of the fire. He’d been released on his own recognizance in both. In the second case, a magistrate ordered pretrial supervision but not electronic monitoring.

On June 17, Ricker was arrested for trespass after refusing to leave Matanuska Brewing Company in a “highly intoxicated condition” with a breath-alcohol level more than three times the limit for driving and after being asked to leave approximately 15 separate times by security there, according to a probable cause statement filed in that case.

On June 25, police came to the LeDoux Lane home after Ricker’s father called for help, saying his son was drunk and trying to get into his gun safe with a knife, according to a probable cause statement. Ricker smelled of alcohol and had difficulty standing; there were numerous beer cans in the trash next to his chair, the document said. One of his conditions of release on the Matanuska Brewery charges barred him from drinking alcohol.

Prior convictions dating back to 2009 include DUI, assault, shoplifting, trespass and theft.

A magistrate issued a $500,000 warrant for his arrest.

During a subsequent police interview, Ricker admitted he set a trash bag on fire outside on a lower porch, Elbie wrote. He “said he was just messing around, but he did it for attention. (Ricker) thought by lighting the fire and damaging the complex that it would get him a new home, in which he wanted to remodel.”

He told detectives “he did not know the whole place would get ‘lit up,’” Elbie continued. He also mentioned he wanted to get into trouble.

The complex includes 20 units, most of them rented, court documents show. The fire rendered at least half the building uninhabitable due to damage from fire, smoke or water.

On Monday, a crew from TCM Restoration boarded up windows. A few residents retrieved belongings.

Noah Cunningham and Clare Herrick lost almost everything but managed to grab their three cats before fleeing their second-floor apartment.

Cunningham said at 2 a.m. Saturday Herrick was sleeping and he was “enjoying a bit of bourbon and playing my Play Station” when he heard the worst scream he’s ever heard. He opened the door. The entire ceiling was on fire.

He ran back into the apartment and yelled to wake Herrick. She called 911 right away, from inside, Herrick said. “I just yelled at them ‘Our apartment’s on fire! This is our address.”

It was 2:11 a.m.

“It took two, three minutes to be from not on fire to our ceiling on fire and us running down the stairs to get our cats out,” Cunningham said.

John Lerch stood outside the complex Monday morning after bringing out some possessions including photographs of his sons.

Lerch said his son woke him around 2:30 a.m. Saturday and saved his life. They got out a window and started helping others. Then they watched the fire burn. The next morning, Lerch said, he went shopping for pants in his bathrobe.

“The last couple days have been pretty remarkable trying to come to grips with the tragedy of the people above me died and everyone who lost a home and trying to find meaning with it all,” he said. “And absolutely overwhelmed with the love and support from this Eagle River community.”

People in Eagle River, including the Eagle River Lions Club, mounted a donations drive over the weekend to help displaced families.

By Monday morning, there were enough donations — cribs, clothing, furniture, food — to fill two storage units, according to Jilene Galle, a community member helping coordinate the drive.

Galle created a Facebook group called “Meadow Creek - Brookside Apartments - Eagle River, AK” on Saturday afternoon. By Sunday, it had 500 members. That number was up to more than 622 by Monday mid-day.

“It’s just been amazing,” said Mary Meacham, with the Lion’s Club.

Displaced families still need help, especially gift cards for gas or general purchases, but also for entertainment to keep children distracted from the trauma they experienced, Galle said. Donations are being coordinated via the Facebook group.

Cunningham and Herrick are staying with relatives and looking for a place.

Lerch and his son are staying in a donated trailer in the VFW parking lot. He’s grateful that, at least for now, the Alaskan summer weather is so good.

“It’s too much for me right now. It’s too much for me to figure out,” he said. “I don’t know why I need a toaster if I don’t have any place to put it.”