Beloved Echo Park Musician Died Saving Roommates In House Fire
An Echo Park house fire over the weekend took the life of one man and badly injured others heavily involved in the local music community.
Although the L.A. County Coroner's office has not released the name of the man who died, friends are identifying him as Sammy Winston, a musician who was influential in the Bay Area and Los Angeles scenes. Friends say he was also responsible for saving the lives of his roommates before he died in a fire that ravaged the single-story rental house on the 800 block of North Alvarado Street—just a couple of blocks from Echo Park Lake—on the morning of July 4.
Liz Tooley, co-owner of Highland Park's Permanent Records, says she didn't know Winston, but is friends with some of the survivors of the fire. She told CBS Los Angeles about what friends told her happened that morning: "Everybody was asleep. He went back in and got people awake and brought them out. So, it’s pretty amazing."
Here are some photos of Winston:
Five of the six people living in the home were in the house at the time of the fire that was reported to the Los Angeles Fire Department at 8:20 a.m., according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. When firefighters arrived, they found that the house, which also had an attic that was converted into a living space, was engulfed in flames.
NBC Los Angeles reported that a 40-year-old man was discovered in the attic of the home. He was "beyond medical help, and was determined dead," the Los Angeles Fire Department said in a statement. Two men were reported to be in critical condition and rushed to a hospital, and one man and one woman suffered minor injuries and were treated on site, according to the L.A. Times.
Twin brothers B.G. and Wrecks Brixton from the band The GROMS were two of Winston's roommates who were home during the fire. Wrecks credits Winston for saving his life. "I would not be here at all," Wrecks told CBS Los Angeles. "I wouldn’t have woken up."
Daniel Quintanilla—co-owner of Echo Park's Lolipop Records and close friends with the Brixton brothers—told LAist that he saw the brothers on Sunday night, and that while they are for the most part physically fine, B.G.'s hand was wrapped up in bandages due to burns he suffered from the fire. B.G. also had to jump out of the window to survive, Quintanilla said.
There were over 50 firefighters who fought the blaze, and they extinguished it in 36 minutes. One firefighter was also taken to a local hospital for minor injuries.
LAFD spokesman Brian Humphrey told LAist on Monday that "the fire still remains under active investigation," and have not released details on the cause of the fire yet.
Quintanilla said that Winston and the Brixton brothers all worked at the Echo, the Echoplex and the Regent. While he did not want to comment on Winston because he wasn't very close to him, he did say that the Brixton brothers have been very active in the music community and with Lolipop Records. "They're very, very important figures in the community because they're always around, always helping...sweethearts," Quintanilla said.
Tooley recently set up a crowdfunding website, already raising over double its $5,000 goal in an effort to help everyone involved in the tragedy get back on their feet.
The Echo and Echoplex also posted the crowdfunding site to their Facebook page on Sunday:
Permanent Records and Lolipop Records have organized a drive for everyone affected by the blaze, where they'll be collecting things like clothing, gift cards for food, and music gear for them. On their Facebook event page which detailed the drive, they penned a heartfelt message about B.G. and Wrecks:
...our very close friends and essential part of the Los Angeles music community, BG & Wrecks Brixton lost their home, belongings & very dear friend Sammy Winston to a house fire at their home in Echo Park. They are some of the most selfless, caring, generous, genuine and kind hearted people we know which is why so many people are pulling their resources together to help. [sic]
Here's a photo of the Brixton brothers:
More efforts are being organized to help the survivors. According to Tooley's crowdfunding site, "Permanent Records, Lolipop, Non Plus Ultra, Blundertown, The Echo and many more will be planning live benefit shows around the city."
Winston was in hardcore bands like All Bets Off, Rampart, and Grace Alley. Here's a video of a 2002 All Bets Off performance in Berkeley, Calif., in which Winston was the lead singer:
He was also a writer for outlets like VICE and creator of countless zines like Spiderghost. Winston was also known for his love for the street art scene and for promoting concerts and creating flyers.
In an undated and candid interview with Winston (which can be seen below), he talked about his love for the hardcore scene. "If you look at Dr. Phil, Oprah... it's always people searching for themselves," Winston says in the video. "People are searching for answers to questions that can't be answered. I don't need any of that. I need a vets hall, a hardcore band, [and] some friends."
He also talks about his background in the clip, saying that his dad left when he was young and that his single mother raised him. "I had problems with drugs and problems and what not, but found everything I was lacking growing up in the hardcore scene. I never really had brothers or sisters and I found that in the hardcore scene. I never had acceptance. I never felt worth anything, and through contributions to the scene and the acceptance of the members of the scene you get this sense of self worth that I was lacking growing up."
Friends and fans of Winston's have taken to social media with messages of love and sadness about their loss. Outside of the destroyed Echo Park home, roses hang on the gate, and messages with "RIP Sammy" are scrawled in chalk on the sidewalk.
On a message board on TheB9.com, James K. wrote, "I'd heard about Sammy for years, but got to hang out with him a good amount last year. Guy had a lot of demons and was able to channel it into some really extraordinary work. He was a great guy and I always enjoyed hanging out with him. RIP Sammy"
Others posted photos of Winston on social media and shared their experiences with him:
In a 2010 interview with music blog, Scene Point Blank, Winston was asked if he felt he could relate to younger kids in the scene, to which he responded:
I can relate, because I make an effort to remember myself at that age. And I can relate because I've done my best to not grow up. It isn't age that disillusions me; it's the mentality of some kids these days. Kids need bands and need shows and need to be a part of something meaningful, but old fucks like me need that too. We're all fucked up people. If we weren't, we wouldn't be here. And age doesn't change that. It just gives you better stories to tell and gray hair.