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Improper heater installation causes death

By Marcelle Dibrell

Police are still investigating a series of possibly negligent actions that precluded the deaths of three hotel guests in a Best Western Hotel in Boone, North Carolina.

In spite of clear warnings on the owner’s manual of a Jandy Lite2 pool and spa heater, maintenance staff apparently failed to install carbon monoxide detectors when they installed a heater that is suspected of leaking the gas that caused the deaths.

Investigations began in April this year with the mysterious deaths of a Washington state couple, Daryl and Shirley Jenkins, both in their 70s, and are still ongoing following the subsequent June 8 death of 11-year-old Jeffrey Williams.

Williams’ mother was hospitalized and is recovering. All occupied the Boone Best Western room 225.

On June 1, following the Jenkins’ deaths, the state medical examiner sent a report to the Watauga County Medical Examiner, Dr. Brent Hall, which showed a lethal amount of carbon monoxide in the blood of Shirley Jenkins.

Apparently no action was taken. Officials at the scene of the Jenkins' death did not immediately suspect carbon monoxide poisoning. Fire officials didn’t test for carbon monoxide at the scene. The medical examiner, Dr. Hall, didn’t visit the scene, nor did he request a rushed toxicology report.

And one week after the cause of Jenkins death had been made available, Jeffrey Williams died in the same hotel room.

And the buck doesn’t stop here.

Police have since identified a number of locations where the heater’s ventilation system was leaking. The ventilation fan was also non-operational.

The actual heater was five years old when it was moved to the Best Western Hotel from a Sleep Inn in 2011. A permit and inspection are required to reinstall or relocate a commercial pool heater in North Carolina, but none was obtained.

Originally propane fi red, the heater was converted to natural gas in 2012. The hotel hired a company called Independence Oil and Gas to convert appliances in the hotel and install new equipment if the equipment could not be converted.

And while conversions of this type are common, the owner’s manual explicitly warns against doing so. In March, inspectors reviewed and passed the heater’s conversion, but were unaware that the heater had been moved from a different location. The investigation is ongoing, and litigation is probable.

While it is easy to sit in judgment, now that the facts are known, strict adherence to the owner’s manual might have prevented the deadly domino effect that followed.

Information for this story comes from the Charlotte News And Observer.


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