An early morning fire at a Winnipeg bathhouse has killed two people, including a popular local drag queen.
Steven Yablonski, also known as Kerri O’Kee, died when a fire broke out at Aquarius Bath just before 7am on Oct 11. The other victim of the blaze has not yet been identified.
‘A REALLY FUN GUY.’ A Facebook group has been set up in remembrance of Steven Yablonski, also known as Kerri O’Kee.
“Steve was a really fun guy to hang around with,” says David Fox, a bartender at Gio’s, a Winnipeg gay bar where Yablonski performed. “He’s here pretty much every day of the week so it’s going to be weird not seeing him walk through the door anymore.”
Yablonski was set to compete next weekend in one of the city’s biggest drag competitions, organized by the Snowy Owl Monarchist Society. As a result of his death, the event will be postponed. Instead, a memorial service will be held next Sat, Oct 17 at Gio’s, featuring a slide show and an open microphone.
Yablonski, who was in his early twenties, grew up in Fraserwood, Manitoba, a small town 50km north of Winnipeg. He worked as a cook at the Pizza Hut in downtown Winnipeg, around the corner from Gio’s. At karaoke nights, he was known for his beautiful singing voice.
“Unless there was something stopping him,” says Fox, “he was always here.”
Police are calling the fire “suspicious in nature,” but a police spokesperson says that doesn’t necessarily mean arson.
“That could mean a lot of things,” says Const Jason Michalyshyn, including careless smoking. He says police automatically call fires “suspicious” whenever someone dies.
The owner of Aquarius, Chai Peng, says the blaze was kept to the top floor of the three-level bathhouse, but the entire business will be closed for at least a week. Authorities estimate the cost of damage at $500,000.
Peng says two staff members were working at the time of the fire. He doesn’t know how many patrons were in the building.
“Right now I’m just shocked,” says Peng. “I don’t know why it happened.”
Aquarius is a co-ed bathhouse on four nights of the week, including weekends. According to Alaya McIvor, a regular customer who wasn’t there when the fire broke out, “the place is packed on co-ed nights.”
She calls Aquarius “quiet, clean and respectable,” but adds, “people smoke in there even though they’re not supposed to.”
Peng says he and his staff do what they can to keep patrons from smoking and drinking in the bathhouse. “We try to do everything professionally, but we can only do so much.”
A Facebook group has been set up for friends to write their memories of Yablonski and post pictures of him.
Join the Facebook group: Remembering Steven Yablonski (Kerri O’Kee)