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Source of deadly poisoning sought at N.C. hotel

WCNC.com

Emergency vehicles outside a hotel in Boone, N.C., where an 11-year-old-boy died from asphyxia Saturday -- two months after an elderly couple was found dead in the same hotel room.

Fire Chief John Taylor of West Virginia doesn’t travel without his portable carbon monoxide detector anymore.

A year and a half ago, Taylor’s fire department responded to a call from the Holiday Inn Express reporting that two men were unresponsive on the floor of Room 511. When emergency responders arrived on the scene, one man was dead and the other was unresponsive.

At least 16 other hotel guests were taken to the hospital and treated for carbon monoxide-related illnesses that day. Taylor said many people experienced flu-like symptoms like dizziness, headaches and fatigue.

“Our detectors go off at 35 parts per million,” Taylor said. “There were over 300 parts per million in the room and levels got higher when we found where the problem was.”

The problem was with the hotel swimming pool's heater. The heater’s exhaust pipe had separated, which caused a carbon monoxide leak throughout the hotel.

Now, in the small town of Boone, N.C., investigators are looking into why three people died in the same hotel room two months apart - all with carbon-monoxide poisoning symptoms.

On Saturday, emergency personnel were summoned to Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza in Boone after two people were found unresponsive on the floor of Room 225.

Jeffrey Lee Williams, 11, was pronounced dead at the scene. His mother Jeannie, 49, was in a coma for one day and was released from the Watauga Medical Center on Monday, according to Gillian Baker, a spokeswoman for the hospital.

Two months earlier, at the same hotel in the same room, an elderly couple - Daryl Dean Jenkins, 73, and Shirley Mae Jenkins, 72 who were visiting from Washington state for a family reunion – were found dead.

Autopsy results for the Jenkinses were delayed and it wasn’t until Monday that investigators determined the cause of death to be carbon monoxide toxicity. Jeffrey Williams died from asphyxia, which is an effect of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Boone Fire Chief Jimmy Isaacs hopes that the North Carolina State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating and Fire Sprinkler Contractors, on the scene Wednesday, will be able to pinpoint the cause of the excess carbon monoxide. Is is unclear if the pool's heater is the culprit, though Room 225 is located directly above the pool.

Carbon monoxide, often called “the silent killer,” is an odorless, tasteless gas that is the byproduct of combustion and it causes hundreds of accidental deaths yearly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

North Carolina is one of 27 states that require carbon monoxide alarms in residential dwellings, but not in commercial buildings such as hotels.

The same was true for West Virginia, Fire Chief Taylor said, until the poisoning last year at the Holiday Inn Express.

The state legislature passed a law in April that requires places like hotels, hospitals and schools to have carbon monoxide detectors installed. Detectors must be tied to the central fire alarm so the fire department can know what they are walking into before they enter a building.

“This incident really brought the issue to the forefront because we had one person die and one person in bad shape,” he said.