Brian Kyle “BK” Frizzell II’s life changed forever when his sister and his roommate were killed and a close friend was critically injured in a fire that was deliberately set at a San Marcos apartment building two years ago — a crime that remains unsolved.
The 22-year-old Texas State University graduate is filming a documentary about the catastrophe, which killed five people and led to a flurry of lawsuits. It will chronicle how the victims’ families were affected by their profound loss.
Frizzell, who works in the film and TV industry in Austin, hopes to wrap filming by July 20, the third anniversary of the fire. He launched the project by raising $7,000 through a GoFundMe campaign and began filming the documentary in the summer.
“I wanted to make something where my sister was more in the focus,” Frizzell said. “For me, really, at the heart of this thing, this is about my grief and my family and the people I lost.”
Haley Michele Frizzell, 19, of San Angelo, had just completed her freshman year at Texas State and was spending the summer of 2018 at her brother’s place at Iconic Village Apartments, several blocks from the university’s campus, while he was away in Houston, working on a professor’s feature film.
Several hours before daybreak July 20, 2018, someone intentionally set a fire at the apartment building, which rapidly grew out of control and engulfed the entire structure. Haley Frizzell was killed, along with BK’s roommate, Texas State student David Angel Ortiz, 21, of Pasadena, as they tried to escape by fleeing the upstairs apartment.
Zachary Sutterfield, now 22, who was staying with them, leaped from a second-story outdoor balcony to get out, suffering a traumatic brain injury and third-degree burns over almost 70 percent of his body.
After undergoing numerous surgeries, Sutterfield is continuing to recover at his home in San Angelo. He and BK Frizzell have been close friends since their high school days.
Also killed in the fire were Texas State student and musician Dru Estes, 20, of San Antonio; James Phillip Miranda, 23, of Mount Pleasant; and Belinda Moats, 21, of Big Wells.
No arrests have been made. The San Marcos Fire Marshal’s Office and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are still investigating.
BK Frizzell has interviewed almost all the victims’ families on camera for the documentary, including his own parents, Brian and Michele Frizzell, both Texas State alumni who met while attending that school in the 1990s. He hasn’t yet interviewed any of Moats’ relatives but hopes that might still be possible.
For the young film director, the project is personal. BK, who earned a theater degree from Texas State last year and was one of the first graduates of the school’s film program, said he and Haley dreamed of starting a production company to make their own movies.
“She was my very best friend and someone I wanted to build my whole career with,” BK said of his sister. The documentary, he added, “is something that I get to make for her and, in a way, with her.
“If it wasn’t for Haley, I wouldn’t do it. … It’s almost something I don’t want to stop doing, because it kind of keeps me connected to her. And it’s also the reason I struggle to keep doing it.”
Haley was a bubbly extrovert studying theater and was accepted into the school’s honors program shortly before her death. She was active in theater, choir and interpretive speech while attending San Angelo’s Central High School.
“She was a very independent person,” BK recalled. “She was finally coming into herself and putting herself on the path she wanted to be on, and she was so excited — then it was all taken away from her. I think about that a lot.”
Once the documentary is complete, he plans to promote it at various film festivals with hopes it will get picked up by a streaming platform, such as Netflix or Hulu. The final product will be 90 minutes to two hours long, but he also plans to post a shorter 10- to 15-minute version online.
If the film ever makes money, BK said he won’t keep it. He plans to donate any proceeds to fire safety and prevention programs or to a large reward fund being offered for leads on who committed the crime.
“Everyone I can possibly get to watch this, I want them to watch it, with the hopes that the person who did this or the person who knows who did this sees it and sees the pain that’s been caused by it — the consequences of their actions — and fesses up,” he said. “Anyone who can possibly bring peace to me and my family, I want to guilt them into it.”
The idea of filming a documentary on the case initially came from Sutterfield’s mother. BK said he initially wasn’t ready to pursue such a project because of his own grief, but as more time passed, he reconsidered.
Interviewing the other victims’ families has made him feel closer to them.
“Meeting these people and seeing the different ways that they’ve grieved their loved ones and the ways they’re dealing with it — how they’ve changed, how their family dynamics have changed — it’s given me a new outlook on the ways that we’re all the same and the ways that we’re all different,” BK said.
Sutterfield’s mother said her family is “extremely proud” of the filmmaker.
“I feel he is a voice for those no longer allowed to speak and an advocate for the families and survivors left behind,” Deona Jo Sutterfield said. “I believe the documentary will raise awareness to this tragic event that could have been prevented if the building was equipped with a fire suppression system.”
A reward of up to $110,000 is still being offered for tips leading to the identification or arrest of the person who started the fire. To provide information on the crime, call 888-ATF-TIPS.
Because the case is still open, investigators haven’t revealed where exactly the fire started or how it was ignited.
The apartments’ owners and managers and various companies that have been sued for the catastrophe have denied wrongdoing. In recent months, they have filed motions in civil court blaming the fire on a Medina County man, Ryon Wayne Castro, 31, and an unidentified “John Doe.”
A state district judge in Austin recently granted those motions designating Castro and John Doe as “responsible third parties” in the lawsuits. That will allow a jury to consider what percentage of responsibility — if any — either of them bear, along with each of the defendants being sued.
Castro could not be reached for comment. He hasn’t been charged with wrongdoing. Without further information, the ongoing criminal investigation isn’t focused on him “at all,” San Marcos Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner said two months ago.
Peggy O’Hare covers demographics, the census and occasionally crime and general assignment stories in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. To read more from Peggy, become a subscriber. [email protected] | Twitter: @Peggy_OHare