After carbon monoxide killed her parents inside a North Carolina hotel room, Kris Hauschildt kept finding news stories about similar tragedies.
She learned that no public agency compiles data on such cases. So she began doing it herself.
Gradually, she said, she came to realize: “This isn’t just something that happens here and there. It happens often.”
With the help of friends, Hauschildt gradually turned an informal list into a detailed spreadsheet that she hopes will help save the lives of others.
Her spreadsheet – culled primarily from news reports about carbon monoxide leaks inside U.S. hotels – shows that there have been more than 200 such cases over the past 50 years.
In the past five years alone, the spreadsheet shows, there have been more than 60 cases. Those carbon monoxide leaks killed eight people and injured more than 250 people. (In a search of published reports, an Observer reporter confirmed those cases – and found several more.)
Among the cases:
▪ On Nov. 7, two guests at a Marriott hotel in Fayetteville were hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning. Firefighters found elevated levels of carbon monoxide in the hotel, and discovered that malfunctioning heaters were the source of it, according to a Fayetteville Observer story.
▪ On April 1, a 13-year-old boy died and 14 others were hospitalized after guests at a southern Michigan hotel were found unconscious around an indoor pool. The deadly fumes came from a faulty pool heater, investigators found.
▪ On Jan. 16, 2014, a 58-year-old man died inside his room at a budget hotel in Lubbock, Texas. Authorities found high levels of carbon monoxide in the room, and determined that a wall heater was the source of it.
“It was personally very difficult to compile that spreadsheet and read about so many stories that were for the most part very similar to ours,” said Hauschildt, a school secretary and former deputy coroner from Long View, Washington.
‘Guests are dying’
Hauschildt’s parents – 73-year-old Daryl Jenkins and his 72-year-old wife, Shirley – checked into the Best Western in Boone, N.C. in April 2013. They had traveled from their home in Washington state to visit cousins who lived about 20 minutes north of Boone.
They were found dead in their hotel room on April 16. Autopsies later determined that the couple had died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
“They thought they were renting a safe place to sleep,” said Charles Monnett, a Charlotte lawyer who filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Jenkins’ family. “Instead they rented a gas chamber.”
They thought they were renting a safe place to sleep. Instead they rented a gas chamber.
Charles Monnett, a lawyer who represented the family of a Washington state couple who died after carbon monoxide leaked into their Boone, N.C. hotel room.
Less than two months later, carbon monoxide claimed a third victim staying in the same hotel room – 11-year-old Jeffrey Williams. Investigators found that the lethal gas came from an improperly vented pool heater directly below the room.
Hauschildt knew there was no reason her parents’ hotel stay should have been a death sentence.
After it became clear why her parents died, she learned that most states did not require carbon monoxide alarms in hotels. (In response to the deaths at the Best Western, North Carolina lawmakers did require hotels to install such alarms near fuel-burning equipment.)
Working for months in her off-hours, she began searching news archives and the internet for similar leaks inside hotels. “The more I searched, the more cases I found,” she said.
Hotel representatives say such incidents are rare, and that the industry is working hard to address the threats posed by carbon monoxide.
But Monnett, the Charlotte lawyer, says Hauschildt’s spreadsheet raises a question: Why have the problems continued so long after the tragedies in Boone?
“The hotel industry has ignored a problem that has persisted for years,” Monnett said. “And guests are dying as a result.
“When you put it all in one place, you wonder, ‘Why isn’t somebody doing something?’ ”