It’s been nearly two years since Daryl and Shirley Jenkins died of carbon monoxide poisoning while vacationing at the Best Western in Boone, and now their children are asking that somebody be held accountable.
Their list is broad.
A lawsuit filed Monday blames Best Western International, the owners of the Boone hotel and its former manager. Also a gas company, one of its contract employees and a local heating technician, all of whom worked on the hotel’s swimming pool heating system where the carbon monoxide originated.
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One of the most poignant sections of the lawsuit catalogs previous deaths and poisonings from carbon monoxide at Best Westerns and other brands of hotels. Despite those previous tragedies, the suit claims Best Western International “made a deliberate and conscious decision not to require the installation of carbon monoxide detectors in critical areas of its hotel buildings.”
Less than two months after the Jenkinses died on April 16, 2013, 11-year-old Jeffrey Williams of Rock Hill died in the same room and his mother, Jeannie Williams, was poisoned. The Williams family is expected to sue for damages, too. Their claims likely will be similar, but also include allegations of negligence by various officials who investigated the Jenkinses’ deaths.
Both families have made it their mission to get carbon monoxide detectors installed in every room in every hotel in every state.
“You’d hope it’s an isolated incident,” Kris Hauschildt said about the deaths of her parents. “It’s not.”
Hauschildt and her brother, Doug Jenkins, believe their parents would be alive if the Best Western Blue Ridge Plaza had had detectors in its guest rooms – despite what they described as the “horrifying” conditions of the hotel’s swimming pool heating system.
“The only fighting chance they had against any of this was to have a carbon monoxide detector in that room,” Hauschildt said in an interview Monday.
After the three deaths in Boone, and the poisoning of guests last August at a Best Western in Pennsylvania, the board of directors of Best Western International voted to require carbon monoxide detectors in guest rooms.
Most hotels do not.
North Carolina passed a law in 2013 requiring carbon monoxide alarms in certain places in hotels with fossil-fuel-burning appliances. The law does not require alarms in all guest rooms.
The lawsuit claims Best Western International “should have known that incidents involving carbon monoxide sickness or poisoning were occurring with alarming regularity throughout the hospitality industry.”
In 2008, for example, a 63-year-old retired engineer died after inhaling carbon monoxide a Best Western in Allentown, Pa. Afterward, the lawsuit says, detectors were installed in all guest rooms at all Best Westerns in Lehigh Valley.
“There is no price tag on life,” a general manager is quoted as saying.
Three years later, elevated levels of carbon monoxide set off alarms at the Allentown hotel. The lawsuit points out that because of the alarms no one was injured.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Mecklenburg Superior Court, incorporates details about the hotel’s faulty swimming pool heating system previously reported in a 2013 Observer investigation.
The lawsuit claims that when the power venter on the system failed, maintenance workers deliberately bypassed a pressure-sensing safety switch rather than repair or replace the venter. The venter was designed to draw deadly carbon monoxide from the building.
That decision, coupled with other mistakes and shortcuts, allowed carbon monoxide to escape from corroded pipes, through holes in a protective fire wall and into Room 225 above, where Shirley Jenkins, 72, and her husband, Daryl, 73, were staying. The couple had traveled to Boone from Longview, Wash., to visit relatives.
Hauschildt, 49, and her brother, Jenkins, 47, said they immediately suspected an airborne toxin. When they arrived at the hotel, they noticed the rusted heating vent on the outside of the hotel, and other signs of disrepair inside.
But authorities in Boone suspected natural causes. So Hauschildt and Jenkins said they wrote the hotel management company about their concerns, hired an attorney and waited for toxicology reports from the N.C. Medical Examiner’s office.
The tests on Shirley Jenkins’ blood were completed June 1 and showed carbon monoxide poisoning. But the results were not made public until after Jeffrey Williams died on June 8, 2013.
The lawsuit seeks wrongful death damages and punitive damages. Among defendants is the former hotel manager, Damon Mallatere, who also faces three counts of manslaughter. He referred questions to his attorney, who declined to comment. A Best Western spokesman also could not be reached.
Hauschildt and Jenkins will speak at a news conference at 11 a.m. Tuesday at attorney Charles Monnett’s office in Charlotte.
A Jan. 30 email exchange between Hauschildt and an Observer reporter illustrates the distress she continues to feel over the loss of her parents. When the reporter noted that nearly two years had passed since they died, Hauschildt replied: “654 days to be exact.”