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York County mom who survived carbon monoxide leak talks with ‘20/20’

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- Courtesy of Williams family
Jeannie Williams, left, with her son, Jeffrey, outside the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte.

The York County mother who survived the carbon monoxide poisoning that killed her son at a Boone hotel last summer gave her first public interview to ABC’s “20/20.”

Jeannie Williams’ 11-year-old boy, Jeffrey, died at the Best Western Blue Ridge Plaza hotel in June, when carbon monoxide from an indoor pool heater leaked into their second-floor suite.

The poisonous gas also killed Daryl Jenkins, 73, and his wife, Shirley, 72, a Washington state couple, who stayed in the same room two months earlier.

Despite the unusual circumstances – a seemingly healthy couple found dead with no signs of trauma in a hotel room – the Observer has reported that local authorities didn’t test the room for carbon monoxide and no one at the state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner rushed toxicology tests.

In a program that aired Friday night, Williams told “20/20” that nothing seemed unusual about the hotel room when they checked in, adding that Jeffrey liked to travel and enjoyed staying in hotels.

“My last … vision I have of him is just sitting on the edge of the bed and him holdin’ the iPad and playing a game,” Williams said.

But then Williams began to feel sick. She went into the bathroom, but as she started feeling worse, she realized her phone was in the other room.

“And I remember on the floor reaching and trying to get to the door to open the door and I … I couldn’t,” she said. That, she said, was her last memory before she collapsed.

“Next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital room,” Williams said.

She was unable to speak – “I guess that was from being in a coma” – but using a notepad, she asked her husband where Jeffrey was.

“And that’s when he told me that … Jeffrey was with Jesus,” Williams recalled.

“And then he just kept telling me, ‘Be strong. I need you. I need you.’ 

Last week, a grand jury indicted Damon Mallatere, the hotel’s former manager, on three counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of assault inflicting serious injury. Mallatere, 50, of Blowing Rock, was freed on $40,000 bail.

On April 19 – three days after the Jenkinses died in Room 225 – Serene Solinski rented the room one floor directly above, Room 325, for her daughter’s 13th birthday sleepover.

During the party, all the girls became ill and had to go home early, and Solinski told the front desk there was something wrong with the room.

“My name was written on a yellow sticky note, and I was told the general manager would be told,” Solinski said in her interview with “20/20.”

The parent of one partygoer told the Observer that they were never informed of the Jenkinses’ deaths one floor below, even after the girls became sick.

Mallatere, in his first public interview since being charged, denied ever receiving that message.

He told “20/20” that Room 225 would never have been reopened six weeks after the Jenkinses’ deaths if they thought it could be dangerous.

“We … never would’ve reopened that room if we had any thoughts whatsoever that there was something wrong or that that would hurt somebody,” Mallatere said.

“I would never willfully … hurt a guest if I knew that I could keep that from happening.”

The N.C. Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating and Fire Sprinkler Contractors said the gas leak was caused by deficiencies in the indoor pool’s water heater.

Mallatere’s attorneys blamed the leak on the gas company that converted the pool heater from propane to natural gas in 2012.

Independence Oil & Gas made the conversion, and Boone inspectors approved the work.

During their “20/20” interview, Matt Gutman with ABC News asked Mallatere whether he felt any responsibility for the deaths in Room 225.

“I don’t believe that anybody … in anyway involved, whether it be the authorities or the contractors or my employees or myself … should go to bed tonight and not feel responsibility,” Mallatere said.

Gutman asked Mallatere how often he thinks about the deaths.

“Every day,” Mallatere said, asking that filming be stopped.

Mallatere’s arraignment is set for Feb. 17.

Williams, who still suffers the effects of the gas, said she was reminded at a recent wedding how much she will miss her son.

“One thing I’ll never have, I won’t have the mother and the groom dance,” she said, sobbing.

“But I just take it one step at a time, and I just know I’ll see him and I’ll dance with him in heaven one day.”

Staff writer Gavin Off contributed to this report.

Trenda: 704-358-5089; Twitter: @htrenda
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