Man Suspected of Lighting Fire at Winter Street Studios Dies of Suicide

by Jessica Fuentes January 4, 2023

On December 22, 2022, Eoles “Deuce” Whitaker II, the man believed to have intentionally started the Winter Street Studio fire, died of suicide by jumping out of his high-rise downtown Houston apartment as police attempted to arrest him. 

A photograph of the exterior of the fire-damaged Winter Street Studios.

The exterior of Winter Street Studios. Photo by Taylor Clendennen.

The fire was started in artist Jack Potts’ Bohemian Photography studio, which suffered the most damage of the nearly 100 spaces that were affected. Early on, Mr. Potts suspected Mr.  Whitaker, his friend who he previously worked with, of stealing his photography equipment and setting the fire. The two recently had a disagreement over $1,000, and Mr. Whitaker lost his job two months ago and may have been facing financial difficulties.

The Houston Fire Department confirmed that Mr. Whitaker was identified via surveillance video from Winter Street, and was also seen on video at his residence, The Rice Apartments, carrying some of Mr. Potts’ equipment. Investigators obtained an arrest warrant, but before they entered his apartment, Mr. Whitaker jumped from his 17th-floor window.

A headshot of Eoles B. Whitaker II.

Eoles B. Whitaker II

Mr. Whitaker was an artist, a civil servant, and community advocate. According to his LinkedIn page, over the past decade he has held several positions, including Director of Intergovernmental Relations through the Texas House of Representatives, adjunct professor at both Texas Southern University and Houston Community College, and General Manager for the 5 Corners Improvement District, an organization that works to enhance the well-being of the Five Corners District located in southern Houston. Additionally, Mr. Whitaker was the founding president and CEO for Whitaker Alliance Group, a management consulting and investment management firm.

A photograph of a man standing outside of a fire damaged building. He looks at his hands as he holds damaged camera equipment.

Jack Potts stands outside his damaged Bohemian Photography studio.

Mr. Potts told KHOU, Houston’s CBS affiliate, “I still would consider [Mr. Whitaker] a friend. To reach a point… where that’s justifiable, he had to be hurting pretty bad.” 

Separately, Mr. Potts told Houston’s Eyewitness News, “As soon as I realized it was him, I can say this honestly, I was never even mad at him. It immediately went to the pain he had to be in… I’m sure he had no idea what was going to happen… the impact, the hundreds of artists that were affected one way or another.” After the events around the fire and Mr. Whitaker’s suicide, Mr. Potts is urging anyone who is depressed or struggling to reach out and ask for help.

Estimates of the damage and loss Mr. Potts has faced range from $250,000 to $500,000. Friends have launched a GoFundMe campaign to support Mr. Potts’ recovery, and the Houston Arts Alliance (HAA), through its Emergency Relief Fund, is still providing stipends to Winter Street Studio artists affected by the fire. Artists seeking relief can apply for emergency funds, and people wishing to donate can do so at HAA’s website.

Currently, the whole Winter Street Studio building is closed, though developer John Deal anticipates two-thirds of the building will be ready for artists to return in February. The other part of the building, which suffered the most damage, will require some structural repairs, and nearly half of the studios in this space will be completely rebuilt. The hope is to have all work completed in about six months.


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PSHiggins January 5, 2023 - 10:49

A reminder that there but the grace of God go I…..

Cary Reeder January 5, 2023 - 10:58

Wow lots of information about the arsonist. Is that really necessary? Seeing his smiling face and reading about his accomplishments feels like publicity for him instead of putting the focus the artists impacted by his impulsive actions. As has been reported, the fire/explosion destroyed three studios but everyone in the building is greatly impacted. Every one of the 77 studios was damaged by soot and smoke, downstairs and upstairs. Before we can move anything, we have to clean a layer of soot off it. All tenants on the east end of the building, where I have my studio, have to move out for a minimum of 6 months, and everyone else in the building has to move their entire studio contents to temporary storage while their studios are cleaned and repainted. Some of the tenants have been in their studios since the building opened and have LOTS of stuff. We have to do all of this while wearing respirators and PPE to be safe. It is a clusterf*ck of major proportions. Let’s focus on the artists and ask people to give money to the Houston Arts Alliance Distaster Fund so we can recover.

Laura Spector January 7, 2023 - 09:12

Again..So much press regurgitated about what one artist lost with a repeated advertisement for his gofundme when all of his stolen equipment was returned unharmed.

Meanwhile, many of us lost physical materials and all of our artwork which can never be recovered. Instead of just mimicking the press and posting handsome pictures of the arsonist with a list of achievements (which fails to include his work shipping hazardous explosive materials) why not write about the nearly 100 artists who are in dire straits without studios? Those of us wearing hazmat suits to go in and clean off the remnants of our work? Or, the emergency conservators coming in with respirators telling us how our cleanup may take 1-2 years if we can salvage our work at all?

This is shoddy, lazy reporting that needs to be updated. There’s more to this story than a bizarre feud over $1000 and one artist who works in digital photography who “lost everything” with yet another link to his personal gofundme. I sure hope this article has a follow-up after a reality check.

Here, have another link to a gofundme. I just found out conservators cost a bit more than $100 an hour. I’m nowhere near an actual goal. And, I lost all of my work for an upcoming solo show.

Vicki Zahand January 8, 2023 - 14:56

I echo the comments of Cary and Laura. I had “just” smoke damage in my studio. I also had 6 of my most valuable pieces on exhibit in the hallway. EVERYTHING is covered in a layer of soot. The exhibit works will need SIGNIFICANT restoration (probably by professional conservators) IF they can be saved at all. ($9,500 value) I had 65 full sized paintings in my studio valued at over $73,000. Each will require many hours and rounds of meticulous hand cleaning and restoration in order to be saleable again. That doesn’t even speak to ANY of the other furniture and equipment and tools and ProPanels and paint tubes and so much more, that have to be HEPA vacuumed and cleaned by hand one at a time. I am one of ONE HUNDRED ARTISTS in that building. EVERY.SINGLE.ONE. got this kind of smoke damage to their studio. The story should not be about the arsonist … It should be about the artist’s lives that have been impacted and how THEY are recovering.

Lynn Bibbs February 14, 2024 - 22:36

Eoles Whitaker was my cousin! I am truly sorry about the fire and about losing my cousin!!


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