Family of carbon monoxide victims: Hotels must better protect guests

The children of a married couple who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a Boone hotel want you to know this: Though smoke detectors are required by law in hotel rooms, for the most part carbon monoxide detectors are not.

“Equally disturbing,” they said, “is the fact that hotel owners have failed to address this known danger.”

Kris Hauschildt and Doug Jenkins have declined to talk in detail about their parents’ deaths. But in response to an inquiry from ABC’s “20/20” news program, which is expected to air a segment about the deaths Friday, they released a statement, asking:

“How many deaths will it take for the hotel industry to finally take action and voluntarily install CO detectors in every room?”

Daryl and Shirley Jenkins of Longview, Wash., died in April at the Best Western on U.S. 421 in Boone. But it wasn’t until June, after 11-year-old Jeffrey Williams of Rock Hill died and his mother, Jeannie, suffered serious injuries that authorities discovered carbon monoxide seeping up from the hotel swimming pool water heater into Room 225.

Because of the deaths, the North Carolina legislature enacted a new law requiring hotels and other lodging establishments to install carbon monoxide detectors in every enclosed space with a fossil-fuel burning heater, appliance or fireplace and in every room that shares a wall, floor or ceiling with such spaces.

The law does not require detectors in every room, and the Jenkinses’ children believe it should – in North Carolina and in all other states.

“As people hear of the entirely preventable deaths of our parents and young Jeffrey Williams at the Boone Best Western, we hope they will feel compelled to research the hotels they frequent – to make sure that, in addition to fancy soaps and fluffy pillows, the hotel has also put its money behind safety measures to protect its guests. ... We wish our mom and dad would have had the information to make that choice.”

Between 1989 and 2004, 772 people suffered carbon monoxide poisoning at hotels, motels and resorts, according to one study. Of those, 27 died.

Potential problems?

The man whose company managed the Best Western was charged last week with three counts of involuntary manslaughter and one of assault inflicting serious bodily injury. Damon Mallatere posted a $40,000 bond and is scheduled for a first court appearance Feb. 17.

Investigators discovered that deadly levels of carbon monoxide escaped from a corroded exhaust pipe that was supposed to safely funnel the gas outdoors. It then seeped up into Room 225 through a hole in the fireplace. It may have also entered from outdoors through the air-conditioning and heating unit.

After Mallatere was indicted, his attorney issued a statement faulting the company that converted the water heater from propane gas to natural gas in 2012, saying the conversion was improperly performed and caused extremely high levels of carbon monoxide to be released.

The statement also questioned “the actions by the town of Boone for their inspection of the conversions.”

Todd Miller, the town building inspector who approved the conversion in March 2012, presented evidence to the grand jury in the case against Mallatere. He has declined to comment.

Mallatere’s attorney said Independence Oil & Gas also converted appliances at other hotels Mallatere managed. Given the problems at the Best Western, and problems later discovered at some of the other hotels, the attorney questioned whether there may be additional problems with conversions performed by Independence at other Boone businesses.

The district attorney last week told the Observer town inspectors were checking to see. But town officials have refused to confirm that. They also have declined to provide copies of all permits and inspections relating to Independence Oil, saying the documents are part of a criminal investigation.