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New law spurs hotel safety changes in Boone, across N.C.

The carbon monoxide leak that killed three guests at a Boone hotel has spawned changes designed to make hotel stays safer in the popular tourist town and across the state.

The Boone Best Western has removed the source of carbon monoxide that killed Daryl and Shirley Jenkins in April and 11-year-old Jeffrey Williams in June. The natural-gas-burning pool heater has been replaced with an electric heater that doesn’t emit carbon monoxide.

On the heels of the tragedies last year, N.C. legislators crafted a law that requires hotels to install carbon monoxide detectors near fuel-burning appliances.

The N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association, whose members include about 200 hotels, motels and other lodging properties, worked with lawmakers to draft the law.

“Our members are aware of the requirements and have taken the necessary steps to comply,” said Lynn Minges, the association’s president. “I feel pretty confident that those who stay in our member properties should feel safe.

“Our industry will continue to work closely to ensure guest safety,” Minges added. “We’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that.”

The law, which took effect Oct. 1, mandates that hotels and other lodging establishments install the detectors in every enclosed space with a fossil-fuel-burning heater, appliance or fireplace and in every room that shares a wall, floor or ceiling with such spaces.

Complying with the law isn’t difficult or expensive: Battery-operated or electric alarms cost less than $75. Lodging establishments aren’t required to connect alarms to their buildings’ electrical wiring until Oct. 1, 2014.

A slow start

But in the Mecklenburg area, many hotels have been slow to follow the new law.

As of early December, the Mecklenburg County Health Department found that 21 of the 31 buildings it inspected had failed to install alarms or had faulty or malfunctioning ones, according to Bill Hardister, environmental health director. County officials issued warnings giving the businesses 30 days to put in alarms.

In some counties outside Mecklenburg, implementation of the law has moved even more slowly. Officials in Union and Iredell counties said last month that they hadn’t performed checks because they were still training inspectors and figuring out enforcement.

Some county health officials have questioned why they were assigned the inspections. They believe fire officials have more experience with detectors.

In Boone, carbon monoxide detectors have been installed at the Best Western and the other hotels previously run by Appalachian Hospitality Management, according to Paul Culpepper, an attorney representing the company.

Investigators found that the carbon monoxide seeped up from a corroded exhaust pipe at the Best Western into Room 225, where the three victims had been staying.

The man who led Appalachian Hospitality Management, Damon Mallatere, was charged Wednesday with three counts of involuntary manslaughter.

Five Boone hotels previously run by Appalachian Hospitality Management are now managed by a new company, Atlanta-based Hotel Equities, which took over on Jan. 1.

“We are very confident through our due diligence that the issues previously facing the hotel have been corrected as indicated by both state and federal regulators,” said Joe Reardon, Hotel Equities’ vice president of business development.

Staff Writer Fred Clasen-Kelly contributed.

Alexander: 704-358-5060
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