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Rights + Justice

Winters Hotel Fire: Resident Dennis Guay Is Missing

Vancouver police say the man was reported missing on April 26, 15 days after the SRO fire killed at least two people.

Jen St. Denis 11 May

Jen St. Denis is The Tyee’s Downtown Eastside reporter. Find her on Twitter @JenStDen.

Another resident of the Winters Hotel has been reported missing, The Tyee has learned.

Vancouver police have confirmed that Dennis Guay was reported missing on April 26, 15 days after a fire swept through the building on April 11 and four days after two bodies were discovered in the rubble of the building on April 22.

Another former resident of the hotel, Mary Ann Garlow, was previously known to have been reported missing to police. While she's been identified as one of the victims of the fire by her family, her body has not been officially identified by the coroner.

The Tyee asked the Vancouver Police Department for information about Guay after several former Winters tenants told The Tyee their neighbour had not been seen since the fire.

Atira Property Management Inc., a subsidiary of Atira Women’s Resource Society, operated the privately owned building as supportive housing with funding from BC Housing.

Caithlin Scarpelli, director of communications for Atira Women’s Resource Society, told The Tyee that Atira staff do not believe Guay died in the fire. Scarpelli said Vancouver Fire Rescue Services released the information to the public about one of the bodies being a male in his 20s. Guay is 53.

“Based on that information, we remain hopeful Mr. Guay will be found,” Scarpelli told The Tyee in an email.

However, the fire service says it has never publicly released any information about the age or gender of the bodies discovered in the building after the fire and referred questions about the identity of the deceased people to the Vancouver Police Department.

“We still don’t know the ID of the body found,” Const. Tania Visintin, a media liaison officer with the VPD, told The Tyee. “We are waiting on the DNA to come back to identify who it is.”

Guay had been a resident of Union Gospel Mission’s shelter in the past, according to Nicole Mucci, communications manager for UGM. Case workers had helped him get permanent housing at the Winters, and they tried to contact him by text and voice calls after the fire, but became worried when they couldn’t reach him. He also missed health appointments after the fire, which was not usual for him, Mucci said.

Union Gospel Mission staff reported Guay missing to police. Mucci said case workers who know Guay describe him as “a very sweet man [who] loved his guitar and loved to play and teach others."

The former Winters Hotel tenants said Guay lived across the hall from Garlow on the third floor of the building. Garlow has been identified as one of the victims of the fire by neighbours and family members, although the coroner has not yet identified her body. The second body has also not yet been identified, and the BC Coroners Service says it does not comment on open investigations.

Candice Mclaurin, a former tenant of the Winters Hotel, said she didn’t know Guay well because he never talked to her, but she’s since learned from other tenants that he was hard of hearing and could not hear at all if he wasn’t wearing his hearing aids.

Lance Tanner, another former tenant, said he remembered knocking on Guay’s door during the fire when he was trying to let residents know they should get out of the building.

“He looked out and I said something and he just told me to shut the door,” Tanner said.

Tanner and other tenants described a chaotic scene inside the building at the time of the fire, with intense heat, thick smoke and no building alarm or smoke detectors going off to alert residents.

A total of 71 tenants were living in the building at 102 Water St. at the time of the fire. The property is owned by Peter Plett.

The building’s sprinkler system was off during the April 11 fire. The fire department had shut it off after a fire three days earlier, and it had yet to be reset by a fire suppression services company.

The building alarm also did not go off, according to Vancouver Fire Rescue Services and residents who were inside at the time of the fire. The fire department says it does not yet know why the alarm did not go off. It is continuing to investigate the fire.

Mclaurin and Garlow’s niece, Misty Fredericks, have previously spoken to media about their concerns about why it took so long for officials to realize the 62-year-old woman was missing.

The day after the fire, a BC Housing executive told reporters that everyone had been accounted for. But in the days that followed, Garlow was reported missing to police by Atira Property Management staff, was mistakenly accounted for by a provincial welfare employee, and then reported missing again.

After the fire, the building could not be searched by firefighters because it was too unstable. It was ordered to be demolished by the City of Vancouver’s chief building official.

Mclaurin said she repeatedly asked Atira Property Management staff where Garlow was, and went to the site of the burned hotel on April 21 as demolition was set to start, with a sign warning that Garlow was still in the building. The next day, two bodies were discovered in the rubble of the burned building.

On April 23, Janice Abbott, the CEO of Atira Women’s Resource Society, told Global News the second victim of the fire was not believed to be a tenant.

In the days following the fire, Scarpelli said Atira staff repeatedly said they had not seen Guay at community meetings, “and we were repeatedly advised he was staying at UGM,” a shelter operated by Union Gospel Mission in the Downtown Eastside. Scarpelli would not say who had given that information to Atira staff.

Mucci said case workers at UGM repeatedly told BC Housing and Vancouver Coastal Health that they had not seen Guay in the days after the fire.

No other residents from the building have been reported missing, VPD’s Visintin wrote in an email to The Tyee.

BC Housing has said it is looking into how residents were inaccurately accounted for during the building evacuation and if any policies or procedures need to change.

Fredericks is now calling for a coroner’s inquest into the death of her aunt and for a full investigation into the fire and how such a tragedy can be avoided in the future.

“On behalf of the family, I lift my hands to all those who helped bring Mary’s life out of the shadows,” she said during a memorial to her aunt at the site of the Winters Hotel on April 29.  [Tyee]

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