Parents of boy who died of carbon monoxide in Boone hotel settle claim against state

Five years after Jeffrey Williams died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a Boone hotel, the legal fight over the 11-year-old’s death has come to a close.

In January 2018, Jeffrey’s parents signed off on a $12 million settlement of their wrongful-death lawsuit against the Best Western chain and the management of the Boone facility.

Now, Jeff and Jeanie Williams have also settled their complaints against the state of North Carolina, which the family says failed to properly inspect the hotel or warn the public that another couple had succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning in the same hotel room two months before Jeffrey.

The settlement amount is $100,000.

In June 2013, carbon monoxide fumes seeping into their Boone hotel room killed 11-year-old Jeffrey Williams of Rock Hill and seriously injured his mother Jeannie. Observer file

But Bailey King, the Williams’ attorney, said the Rock Hill couple had a goal in mind that dwarfs what they will receive from the state.

“They want the people responsible to be held accountable,” King told the Observer on Monday. “More importantly, they tried to do everything they could to ensure that something like this never happens again.”

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On June 7, 2013, Jeffrey and his mother settled in for the night in Room 225 of the Best Western Blue Ridge Plaza in Boone. According to court documents, Jeannie Williams told her son he could play with an electronic game while she left the room to get ready for bed.

Jeannie Williams almost immediately began feeling sick and nauseous, according to the family’s lawsuit. Her last thought was trying to reach her cell phone to call for help so her son would not be left alone, the lawsuit says.

Jeffrey died that night. Jeannie Williams was seriously injured but survived.

Investigators later discovered that carbon monoxide had seeped into the room from an improperly maintained swimming pool water heating system on the floor below.

Two months earlier, a Longview, Wash., couple, Daryl and Shirley Jenkins, were found dead in the same room.

Daryl and Shirley Jenkins, of Longview, Washington died in April 2013 of carbon monoxide poisoning in a Boone hotel.

In their lawsuit against the hotel chain, the Williamses claimed that the Best Western staff did not tell Jeannie about the earlier deaths.

“Hotel staff made a conscious decision to place Jeannie and Jeffrey Williams into room 225,” the lawsuit said.

In claims filed with the N.C. Industrial Commission, which handles complaints against government, Jeffrey’s parents accused former Watauga County medical examiner Brent Hall, the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services of mishandling the investigation into the Jenkins’ deaths.

Carbon monoxide found at the Best Western Hotel in Boone where a York County boy died over the weekend -- in the same room where a Washington couple died two months ago. Observer files

A week before Jeffrey died, the state toxicology lab completed tests that showed Shirley Jenkins died of carbon monoxide poisoning. But the results were not made public, the Observer has reported.

“A death like this is entirely preventable if not for the errors of numerous people involved in this case,” King said.

The state agencies were represented in the case by the N.C. Attorney General’s Office.

“We’re pleased the parties could come to agreement,” office spokeswoman Laura Brewer said Monday.

Kelly Haight, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, expressed the same sentiment.

“First, we want to extend our deepest sympathies to the Williams family,” she said.

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Michael Gordon has been the Observer’s legal affairs writer since 2013. He has been an editor and reporter at the paper since 1992, occasionally writing about schools, religion, politics and sports. He spent two summers as “Bikin Mike,” filing stories as he pedaled across the Carolinas.