Body found after hotel fire; suspect arrested (w/video)
Jennifer Lee Preyss
Nov. 24, 2013 at 5:24 a.m.
Updated Nov. 25, 2013 at 5:25 a.m.
Just after dark Saturday night, Alysha Hernandez stood outside her Victoria Motel apartment on East Rio Grande Street. Tears welled in her eyes.
A deputy had dropped by moments earlier to serve the 22-year-old with papers related to Hernandez's legal reunification with her two children.
"It was a bad day," Hernandez said, remembering she wanted to immediately go inside and be alone. For the past few months, she has been juggling the loss of her children to Child Protective Services, her husband's recent incarceration and holding down a steady, low-wage job at the Whataburger restaurant two blocks from her home.
Hernandez didn't realize that her "bad day" would become a horrific weekend.
She learned Sunday morning that her friend and neighbor, "O.G.," who lived a few doors down from her at the same motel, was murdered earlier that morning. Another friend, Shawn Chapel, 32, of Victoria, was arrested in connection to the crime.
The night before
Hernandez went back inside her apartment Saturday night and ascended the hardwood steps to her top-floor bedroom. She turned on the space heater in her near-empty room and lay atop the sky blue sheets.
Then came a knock at the door.
It was her friend and neighbor, a 66-year-old man she lovingly referred to as "O.G." or "Old Gangster." He was checking on Hernandez, as he usually did in the evenings.
"He stayed for about a half hour, and then I hugged him and kissed him on the cheek. I told him, 'Goodnight. I'll see you tomorrow.'"
That was the last conversation Hernandez had with "O.G." The next morning, she learned the 6A apartment of "O.G." had caught fire, and he was dead.
A few hours later, Hernandez discovered the fire was not accidental. Victoria police were investigating the death as a homicide.
Chapel, a new resident of Victoria, was also her friend. At least, he had been since he moved to town three weeks ago to live with his cousin on South William Street, she said.
"His cousin bought him a bus ticket from one of the cold states up north," she said. "I was friends with his cousin, and Shawn would come by sometimes on his bicycle."
Chapel, too, had stopped by her apartment earlier Saturday evening, before "O.G." came over, but she said she sent him away because she was too depressed to have company.
Chapel's repeated visits to the motel eventually led to his meeting of "O.G.," but Hernandez said the men never became friends.
Hernandez said Chapel had mentioned in recent weeks that he was interested in her romantically, but she had always declined his advances.
"I know I shouldn't feel guilty," Hernandez said, gasping for air and wiping tears from her eyes. "But if I'd never let Shawn in my apartment," her old friend would still be alive.
The crime scene
Victoria police and firefighters responded to an emergency call at the motel at 2:38 a.m. Sunday.
"O.G." was dead when officials arrived, said Victoria police Lt. Mark Jameson. The victim was pronounced dead by Victoria Precinct 1, Justice of the Peace, Richard Castillo.
Yellow crime scene tape roped off the apartment and a small portion of the pavement, surrounding "O.G.'s" charred mattress and recliner chair sitting on the parking lot.
On the red apartment door of "O.G.," a red and white warning sign was posted: Oxygen in use. No smoking.
It is unknown if the oxygen tank "O.G." used for his emphysema was related to the start of the fire.
Jameson said the body was sent to Travis County for an autopsy.
Texas Rangers and Victoria police are investigating the death. Police did not release the victim's name or how he died.
Chapel was booked into the Victoria jail at 4:22 a.m. Sunday. He was being held on $500,00 bond on suspicion of capital murder by terror threat.
Police officials left the crime scene at 2:30 p.m. but returned at 4 p.m. to collect the burned mattress and chair outside the apartment.
Hernandez said she has been friends with "O.G." since she moved into the motel three months ago. "O.G." has lived on the property for more than a year, and he has made many friends at the motel.
"Everyone here is friends," she said. "We all look out for each other."
Hernandez said she befriended "O.G." quickly, and he became a father figure to her.
He was known on the property for selling prescription drugs but was otherwise a kind, law-abiding citizen, she said.
"He wouldn't hurt a fly," she said. "He was just a sweet old man. He was my friend. He was real protective of me."
Hernandez said "O.G." always had a wad of cash in his wallet and because of his diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver and emphysema, he was taking many prescriptions.
"He would sell Xanex, two for $15, or Lortabs for $10 each," she said, mentioning his long display of prescription drugs in the entryway of the apartment. "But he didn't drink. He didn't smoke."
She said "O.G." and Chapel, to her knowledge, never became friends.
Hernandez's friend, who lived on South William Street, introduced her to Chapel three weeks ago.
He was new to town, and Hernandez said her friend, who is Chapel's cousin, bought him a bus ticket to come live with him in Victoria.
"He didn't have any money, and he was using drugs," she said, mentioning that she agreed to let Chapel move in with her after he found a steady job and was earning enough money to pay rent and the bills.
In recent weeks, Chapel would drop by her apartment, and occasionally, he would cross paths with "O.G."
"I mentioned in front of him one time, not to his face, but in front of him," that "O.G." sold his prescriptions, she said. "But they weren't friends."
She said she didn't know why Chapel would have been at the apartment of "O.G." on Sunday.
When the deputy left Hernandez's apartment Saturday, she said "O.G." stopped by to check on her, as he usually did each evening.
She invited him inside but noticed he seemed overly medicated.
"It was like he was drunk, but he wasn't drunk," Hernandez said.
For about 30 minutes, they chatted in Hernandez's room about the court case with her children.
"He was sitting in my room, in this chair, and he was saying, 'You just have to keep fighting for your kids,'" Hernandez said, swiveling in the same beige office chair that "O.G." sat in the night he died.
Hernandez said she begged him to stay a little longer because she noticed he was heavily medicated.
But he insisted he wanted to return home, she said. And she helped him down the stairs.
"When he fell down my stairs, that's when I knew he wasn't well," she said, mentioning that she helped him get up and then walked him home.
At 3 a.m., Hernandez said she awoke to fire engines responding to the fire in the apartment of "O.G."
A neighbor informed her he wasn't inside.
"They told me his brother came to pick him up," she said. "I thought he was OK."
Staring out of her window and sitting in the office chair "O.G." sat in the night before, Hernandez started crying.
"I just wish I had a picture of him at least because he was such a good guy," she said. "He was my friend. I just wish I could have protected him. ... I'm going to miss seeing him walk outside the apartment."