Eight months after the Hilton Garden Inn hotel went up in flames, Killeen residents Linda Anderson and Debra Pressley are still searching for answers.
After months of unanswered phone calls and emails, the two women say they have hit a dead end in their quest to be reimbursed for personal belongings lost in the fire.
During the height of February’s disastrous winter storm, on the evening of Feb. 19, the Hilton Garden Inn, 2704 O. W. Curry Drive in Killeen, erupted into flames. The fire was complicated by a lack of water pressure from the winter storm power outage.
Firefighters from seven agencies battled the fully engulfed building for hours before containing the fire in the early hours of Feb. 20. None of the occupants of the hotel’s 102 rooms were seriously injured in the blaze. However, Chico the chihuahua, a local family pet, was never recovered from the building.
According to the Killeen Fire Department’s report, it was determined the fire started in the attic but the cause of the fully occupied hotel fire was never concluded. Hotel owner, Viu Le, was seen in the attic hours before the fire started to allegedly repair a step on a ladder, according to the fire report.
Killeen neighbors Linda Anderson, and Debra Pressley’s 84-year-old mother, Mignon, stayed at the hotel during the ice storm after they lost power and water at their respective Killeen homes in February.
The pair’s hotel stay was less than hospitable, Anderson said.
“The first night we were there we had no water,” she said, explaining that they filled up the bathtub in order to flush the toilet. “We called down and they said, ‘Well, the water is frozen.’ That was the first night we’d gotten there.”
Anderson said “there was water on the floor everywhere” and that the hotel appeared to be having electrical issues days before the freak Friday fire.
“I can tell you the day of the fire, the elevators were not working right,” she said. “We were on the third floor, every time I tried to go up to the third floor the elevator would chug about three times after you pushed it (the button) and on the fourth time it’d go up.”
Anderson left the hotel on Feb. 19, once power and electricity were restored at her house, but her neighbor, Mignon, stayed one last night — the night the hotel erupted in flames.
“My mother had to be carried out by two soldiers,” Debra Pressley said.
Pressley and Anderson said the months following the fire have been frustrating.
“She lost an iPad, she lost a blue Samsonite hardcover suitcase, she lost her phone, she lost clothing, blankets,” Pressley said. “She had gone prepared — lots of coats, robes, shoes, an overnight bag, medicine, electric toothbrush, sunglasses. She just so frustrated that we can’t get anyone at all to talk to us about what’s going on.”
Pressley called the Hilton Guest Assistance department, the Hilton’s corporate office in Virginia, and Vui Le, the independent owner of the Killeen Hilton Garden Inn.
“They were absolutely no help,” she said.
Le, Pressley said, gave her the name and number of a Travelers Insurance agent so she could file a claim for her mother’s lost items.
“Of course, no one there at that number answers the phone,” she said. “I called Travelers and they said they had no one named that working for them. Travelers also said that’s not a claim number we’d give out.”
Pressley said she is seeking to connect with other hotel guests who may be having the same problem filing a claim with the hotel owner’s insurance.
“I’m interested in pursuing this and finding as many people as I can,” she said.
The Hilton Garden Inn is owned by Le Family LLC, according to the most recent record from the Bell County Appraisal District. In 2020, according to appraisal district records, the four-story hotel was valued at $9,215,810 — a 41% increase from the building’s 2019 appraised value.
The Herald was unable to reach Le by phone Monday.