Crime & Courts

Anchorage pair plead guilty in Spenard apartment arson fire that killed 3 and injured 16

An Anchorage man and woman pleaded guilty on Thursday to manslaughter and assault for setting fire to an Anchorage apartment complex in February 2017.

The fire spread rapidly throughout the structure, ultimately killing three women, injuring 16 other people and displacing dozens of residents.

Carleigh West and Andrew Eknaty, now both 35, set fire to a Chevrolet Malibu to conceal evidence they had driven drunk and evaded police earlier in the night, according to a statement filed this week by prosecutor Patrick McKay detailing what the state contends are the facts of the case. The fire spread quickly through the 30-unit complex and left many residents with no choice but to jump from second- or third-floor windows in order to escape.

West and Eknaty pleaded guilty to charges of manslaughter, first-degree assault and criminally negligent burning on Thursday. West, who changed her name from Carleigh Fox in 2022, also pleaded guilty to a charge of driving under the influence. The pair was originally indicted on 38 charges, including murder and arson. All other charges would be dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

The plea agreement calls for them to each serve 24 years in prison, attorneys said at Thursday’s hearing.

At least one person plans to voice objections to the plea agreement and urge the judge not to accept the deal, an attorney with the state Office of Victims’ Rights said on Thursday as she appeared for the hearing telephonically. McKay said he received mixed feedback from victims on the agreement.

On Valentine’s Day in 2017, Eknaty stole a bottle of alcohol from a Brown Jug location while West waited in the car, the facts of the case statement said. Around 1:30 a.m. on Feb. 15, University of Alaska Anchorage campus police saw West strike a snow berm and then flee the area, the statement said. The Chevy Malibu’s license plate fell off at the scene, prosecutors said.


West and Eknaty decided to report the vehicle as stolen, the statement said. Eknaty then drove it to the Royal Suites Lodge and parked beneath the west carport around 2:10 a.m., it said.

They then started a fire inside the passenger compartment of the car and were seen on surveillance footage walking toward the apartments, according to the statement. About two minutes later, Eknaty could be seen running back to the vehicle before confronting West and throwing snow on the car, the statement said.

The pair fled the scene at that point without notifying anyone of the fire, it said. The first 911 call came in about eight minutes later, when the fire had already spread to the west end of the apartments, the statement said.

At the scene, first responders prioritized rescuing people trapped in the building and providing first aid to those who were injured, either by smoke inhalation, burns or from jumping from the burning building, officials said at the time.

Andrew Engelking broke his leg after jumping from the third floor of the building, then stood up and caught his 2- and 10-year-old children as they evacuated the building through the window, he said during interviews in the aftermath of the fire. He broke the fall for his pregnant wife after she leapt from the building, but she still broke her spine and underwent an immediate Caesarean section the day of the fire to deliver their daughter two months early, he said.

[Previous coverage: ‘No other choice’: Dad caught kids as they jumped from fire, but pregnant wife landed hard]

Teuaililo Nua, a 38-year-old mother of two, jumped from the window after her daughters, but was unconscious after hitting the ground, her husband told reporters in the days after the fire. She died at the scene.

First responders also located 63-year-old Vivian Hall dead in a second-floor unit. She was bedridden, a caregiver told reporters.

Hall’s roommate, 70-year-old Laura Kramer, died several days later at a Seattle hospital from injuries suffered in the fire.

Displaced residents took shelter at the recreation center in Spenard in the immediate aftermath.

West and Eknaty blamed an engine fire and told investigators they had not intentionally started the blaze, court documents filed in the case said. But after more than a yearlong specialized investigation, officials determined the fire started in the passenger compartment, not the engine, McKay’s statement said.

Thursday’s change of plea hearing came more than seven years after the deadly fire and nearly six years after West and Eknaty were charged. McKay said the delays came from the complex nature of the case, as well as the pandemic.

West and Eknaty are scheduled to be sentenced in October.

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Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter focusing on breaking news and public safety. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota. Contact her at