DA expected to announce findings in CO deaths at Best Western in Boone

eleland@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 5, 2014 

Daryl and Shirley Jenkins

A grand jury in Boone is expected to hear evidence Monday about the carbon monoxide poisonings last year at the Best Western hotel in Boone.

Three people died in the hotel’s Room 225, and a fourth person suffered life-threatening injuries. The state is already pursuing possible civil penalties, and it will be up to the grand jury whether criminal charges are filed.

The grand jury is scheduled to convene Monday morning, weather permitting, and the district attorney’s office has announced a 4 p.m. news conference.

Daryl Jenkins, 73, and his wife, Shirley Jenkins, 72, were the first to die in Room 225. Visiting from Longview, Wash., their bodies were found on the morning of April 16 with no evidence of foul play. On June 8, seven weeks later, 11-year-old Jeffrey Williams of Rock Hill died in the same room and his mother, Jeannie, nearly died.

The cause: deadly levels of carbon monoxide seeping up from a corroded exhaust pipe connected to the swimming pool water heater on the floor below. The metal pipe was supposed to remove carbon monoxide from the heater to the outdoors, but it had gaping, rusted-out holes. Investigators say that the gas seeped into the room through a hole in the fireplace and possibly through the heating and air conditioning unit.

The State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating and Fire Sprinkler Contractors is seeking injunctions against three people who did unregulated maintenance on the swimming pool heating system, and possible sanctions against a licensed professional who worked on the system. Those cases are ongoing and results have not been made public.

Boone police conducted a six-month criminal investigation and presented findings to the District Attorney Jerry Wilson in December.

The deaths at the Best Western exposed a series of missteps by government agencies.

After the Jenkinses died, the Boone Fire Department did not test the room for carbon monoxide poisoning. Dr. Brent Hall, the local medical examiner, did not ask that toxicology results on their blood be expedited. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner took 40 days to complete the first toxicology test and even then, after carbon monoxide was pinpointed, results were not made public.

Seven days later, Jeffrey Williams died.

Leland: 704-358-5074

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