Pioneer Hotel Fire
Fire in 1970
On December 20, 1970, Downtown Tucson's Pioneer Hotel (100 N. Stone Ave.) was damaged by a fire. 28 people were killed, including department store owner Harold Steinfeld and his wife, Margaret. Louis C. Taylor, who was 16 at the time of the fire, was sentenced to life in prison on 28 counts of murder. Taylor’s conviction was highly controversial, and the television program "60 Minutes" featured a segment questioning Taylor’s guilt in the case.
The origin of the fire in the Pioneer Hotel continues to be a subject of debate. In 2006, the Arizona Justice Project prepared a court petition to re-examine whether the fire resulted from arson, but Taylor remained in prison until 2013, when the case was investigated anew. According to a March 31, 2013 article in the Arizona Daily Star,
“Last October, attorneys with the Arizona Justice Project filed a motion for post-conviction relief, asking for the case to be dismissed or for an evidentiary hearing. The attorneys, including Michael Piccarreta of Tucson and former Arizona State Supreme Court Justice Stanley Feldman, said several defense experts, using modern forensic fire science, would testify they would not have ruled the blaze arson.”
As part of the investigation, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall also arranged for the Tucson Fire Department to conduct another review of the case. TFD investigators were unable to determine a fire cause, due in part to the fact that the scene and any destroyed evidence could not be investigated.
After these findings, an agreement was arranged that set aside Taylor’s conviction and credited him for 42 years of prison time that had already been served. In return, Taylor pled no contest, and was released from prison on April 2, 2013.
Fire in 2001
There was a small fire in the Pioneer Building on June 19, 2001. None of the building’s occupants were injured.
"Exhaust Pipe Sparks Pioneer Fire." Arizona Daily Star. June 20, 2001. Page B4.
"Expert now has doubts arson caused hotel deaths." Arizona Daily Star. October 8, 2006. Page 1.
Journal of Arizona History: "The Pioneer Hotel: The Steinfeld family builds a Tucson Landmark." Journal of Arizona History. Autumn 2008. Page 205.