One boy dead. How many others and who’s to blame?
On June 8, 2013 an 11 year old boy, Jeffrey Lee Williams, and his mother, Jeannie Williams, from Rock Hill, SC were discovered in their hotel room in Boone, NC. They were discovered by the night clerk after they were unable to be reached by telephone by their awaiting family members.
Jeffrey Lee Williams was found dead from apparent asphyxia, which was later determined to be caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. His mother was rushed to the hospital in critical condition after suffering from the same over exposure to carbon monoxide. Authorities have found that the carbon monoxide was leaking into their room from a near by indoor pool heated by a natural gas heater.
Although this death was unnecessary and tragic, perhaps the worst part is that just a couple months prior an elderly couple lost their lives at the same hotel (The Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza at 840 E. King Street, Boone, NC) and in room 225 which turns out to be the SAME ROOM! Daryl Dean Jenkins, 73 and Shirley Mae Jenkins, 72, from Longview, Washington passed due to the same toxic exposure on April 16, 2013.
It has been reported that in addition to the local authorities, Federal and State Investigators are now on the scene. Latest reports have uncovered that the pool’s natural gas heater and room heater were located directly beneath Room 225 and had obvious corrosion damage that caused the gas and carbon monoxide to escape directly in to the guests’ room.
Although the hotel is currently cooperating with authorities to address any issues identified and to provide a safe environment for its patrons why has it taken 3 deaths and 1 near fatal injury to get their attention? Why wasn’t this problem addressed after Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins were found to have suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning in that same room just months earlier? And why was this room rented out again without the problem being fixed?
Many can see the tragedy in these cases, but is this an isolated incident? I’m sorry to say that it is not. Each year more than 200 people in the United States die from carbon monoxide poisoning. However, possibly scarier still is that studies have shown that between 1989 and 2004 there were 68 incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning occurring at various hotels, motels and resorts across the nation resulting in 772 accidently poisoned: 711 guests, 41 employees or owners, and 20 rescue personnel. Of those poisoned, 27 died. Lodging-operated, faulty room heating caused 45 incidents, pool/spa boilers were to blame for 16, carbon monoxide entrained from outdoors 5, and unreported sources caused 2 and there are reported incidents going back as far as the early ‘70’s.
These poisonings have occurred at multiple hotels and motels of all classes. Despite these recorded incidents, most properties did not install carbon monoxide alarms, and requirements for carbon monoxide alarms at hotels, motels and resorts are rare. Even with these horrifying incidents of death and injuries hotels, for the most part, don’t appear to be showing any substantial level of concern.
Carbon monoxide poisoning has become relatively public knowledge and many companies and manufactures have come out with inexpensive and easily operated devices to detect and/or reduce the chances of exposure. With these options available, shouldn’t they be utilized in such public places to protect the health and safety of those that patron them? It seems that a simple installation of a carbon monoxide detector could have prevented many of these deaths. A cautious traveler could even invest in an inexpensive portable carbon monoxide device to take with them.
How many more have to be rushed to the hospital or mourned by their families before these corporations do something to protect us? Too many corporations look at their bottom lines and don’t make a change that would cost them a minimal amount if it seems cheaper to them to deal with each individual incident rather than make a mass renovation/improvement to their multiple facilities across the nation. When does the human life become more valuable than the bottom line?