South Carolina to require CO alarms for some hotels

Unlike North Carolina, South Carolina will soon require that hotels equip many of their rooms with carbon monoxide alarms – devices that might have prevented the deaths of three guests at a Boone hotel.

Starting July 1, changes to South Carolina’s building code will require carbon monoxide detectors in many new and existing hotels that have fuel-fired appliances or attached garages.

S.C. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-York, said such measures might have made a difference for Jeffrey Lee Williams, the 11-year-old Rock Hill boy who was killed this month by leaking carbon monoxide at a Best Western hotel in Boone.

“What happened to that little child should not have happened,” said Norman, who attended the boy’s funeral Sunday. “I want to save lives and save families from going through what this family went through.”

In September, the North Carolina fire service will likely recommend building code changes similar to those adopted in South Carolina, according to a state insurance department spokeswoman.

South Carolina followed the lead of the International Building Code, which last year imposed requirements for carbon monoxide alarms in hotels. The panel that adopts North Carolina’s building code may decide to do the same.

Some state lawmakers – including Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, and Rep. Jonathan Jordan, R-Watauga – say they’ll push for a study to determine whether the state should require hotels to install carbon monoxide alarms.

‘We feel the tragedy’

So far, the hotel industry appears to be supporting such a study. Lynn Minges, president of the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association, said she thinks the idea of requiring hotels to install carbon monoxide detectors is “certainly worthy of consideration.”

“We’d want to be part of ensuring the safety of our guests,” said Minges, whose group represents 188 hotels and motels. “I’m sure we’d welcome a study to ensure that situations like this don’t happen in the future.”

Minges said that while her members have not yet taken a position on the issue, they’ll want to be involved in the search for solutions.

Others have contended that it’s time for action. Boone Mayor Loretta Clawson has talked about the need for carbon monoxide detectors in every state hotel room, according to WSOC-TV.

“We feel the tragedy,” Clawson told the television station. “What has happened to the families is unthinkable.”

The recent deaths at the Best Western have focused attention on the dangers of carbon monoxide as well as breakdowns in the state’s system of death investigations.

On April 16, two of the hotel’s guests – Daryl Dean Jenkins, 73, and Shirley Mae Jenkins, 72, both of Longview, Wash. – were found dead in their room. Autopsies found they died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

On June 8, Williams died in the same hotel room, also from exposure to carbon monoxide.

Authorities believe the poisonous gas came from an improperly installed pool heater below their room. The heater was installed without the knowledge of local building inspectors.

Carbon monoxide hazards

The South Carolina building code changes would not require carbon monoxide alarms in every hotel room. One notable exception: In hotel buildings where common areas are equipped with alarm systems, individual hotel rooms would not be required to have them.

Norman said he’s confident lawmakers will keep an eye on the new rules to make sure they “get the job done.”

Often called “the silent killer,” carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that inhibits the blood’s ability to carry oxygen and can cause severe illness or death in minutes. It’s emitted by cars and other fuel-burning machines and appliances.

Carbon monoxide has killed some 400 people in North Carolina since 2001, including 39 in Mecklenburg County, an Observer analysis of state death certificate data found. More than half of North Carolina’s carbon monoxide deaths were accidental, data show.

A state expert said many of the deaths were caused by generators, indoor grills and cars parked inside garages.

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