N.C. Medical Examiners

Family of Rock Hill boy: Carbon monoxide bill is inadequate

The family of the Rock Hill boy killed in a Boone Best Western contends that a proposed bill to require carbon monoxide alarms in some hotel rooms doesn’t go far enough.

Authorities believe an improperly installed pool heater was responsible for a carbon monoxide leak that killed 11-year-old Jeffrey Williams and two others at the hotel this year.

In response to those tragedies, N.C. lawmakers crafted a proposal that would require hotels to install carbon monoxide detectors in every enclosed space with a fossil-fuel-burning heater, appliance or fireplace – and in every hotel room that shares a common wall, floor or ceiling with such spaces.

But Jeffrey Williams’ uncle, Darrell Williams, also of Rock Hill, said those provisions would not sufficiently protect hotel guests

According to investigators for the Williams family, the room where Jeffrey and two other guests died did not share a common wall, floor or ceiling with the room housing the pool heater. Instead, a ventilation system separated the rooms, Williams said.

Still the deadly gas leaked from the first-floor maintenance room to the hotel suite above.

“Something like this (the three deaths) could still happen if they don’t include ventilation systems where that gas can get out,” Williams said.

Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, who originally got the carbon monoxide provision inserted into a regulatory reform bill, said Tuesday night that she is trying to amend the bill’s wording to address such concerns.

“We’re trying to tighten it up,” she said.

Different versions of the bill have passed the Senate and House. The two chambers must now agree on a final version.

If the necessary provisions don’t become law this year, Carney said, she’ll work to make sure it happens in the next legislative session.

How S.C. rules differ

Carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas, killed Washington state residents Daryl Jenkins, 73, and his wife, Shirley Mae Jenkins, 72, at the hotel on April 16.

Nearly two months later, in the same hotel room, the gas killed Jeffrey and left his mother, Jeannie, with serious injuries.

Boone police are investigating the deaths and will send their findings to Watauga County District Attorney Jerry Wilson.

Meanwhile, the Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza, which had been closed, has reopened. Last week, it received a limited certificate of occupancy, allowing it to operate without use of the pool.

North Carolina is among 27 states that require carbon monoxide alarms in new homes. Like most states, it does not mandate detectors in hotels.

But a growing number of states – including New Jersey, Michigan and Vermont – require many hotels to install such detectors.

Since July 1, changes to South Carolina’s building code also require carbon monoxide detectors in many new and existing hotels that have fuel-fired appliances or attached garages. South Carolina followed the lead of the International Building Code, which last year imposed requirements for carbon monoxide alarms in hotels.

Like the other three states, South Carolina does not require the detectors in every room. But it goes farther than what North Carolina is proposing, Williams said.

The S.C. rules require the alarms in rooms connected by ductwork or ventilation shafts to all spaces containing fuel-burning appliances.

“I’d like to have a federal law passed so it doesn’t change from state to state with each hotel,” Williams said. “Before that happens, we would like to see North Carolina adopt a similar law to South Carolina.”