The Pioneer Hotel Fire: 50 years later

The phone rang late the other night from an unfamiliar number. I do not know why I decided I should answer, but I was glad I did. The caller was distressed and needed to talk. I met “Ty” 18 months ago when I had to join a gym to strengthen my back as a mom. At 71 years young, Ty is a warrior in the gym, and he loves to talk my ear off. I eat it up: I love my Old Pueblo history. Ty helped create the first version of the Reid Park Zoo.

In fact, Ty accepted his entry level position for the Parks Department a week before the Pioneer Fire and had put in his notice at the Hotel. He was not at work the night the hotel burned, and it has haunted him all these years. It is one of Tucson’s worst tragedies; it was a night of tremendous loss for the community.

“I recorded Bud Foster on the TV, and I guess he’s sayin’ it’s almost been 50 years since the fire. That fire was an accident waiting to happen. We had laundry shoots, and people would send down burning cigarettes in the sheets every night. Putting out fires in the basement was just part of my job. I tried to tell them at the time, but no one would listen to any of us. They wanted to blame someone for so many deaths. Louis was from a good family. Good, good people from both the Mexican and the Black communities. How those people suffered. He was just a child. Louis was just a child.”
Ty was distraught. It was the first time he had seen a photo of his old friend Louis Taylor, the 16 year old hotel janitor framed for the fire and sent to prison for 42 years. Putting a photo of Louis and Ty together would make anyone feel sick. Prison destroyed Louis, his health, his mind, his future. He is back in prison now for a crime of desperate poverty committed with an addled mind. I was afraid Ty might start crying. 

Instead Ty breathed deeply and thanked me for listening.
The criminal justice system makes mistakes. And the office I am running for has seen its fair share. Including the way it mishandled Louis’s exoneration and further harmed him. Humble and steady leadership requires a Pima County Attorney who will be transparent with data, identify what harms the community has suffered like ongoing racial disparity in the jail, and begin to right the ship. Now is the time to bring in fresh leadership to honestly survey the task at hand, build the next generation of prosecutors, and roll up our sleeves for the long, steady haul toward reform.
Let’s go. Together.