By Jesse Wood
June 10, 2013. The cause of the three deaths and one hospitalization that occurred recently inside Room 225 of the Best Western in Boone is carbon monoxide, Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford officially announced at a late afternoon press conference Monday.
Most recently on Saturday, an 11-year-old boy, Jeffrey Williams, was found dead, while his mother Jeannie Williams, 49, of Rock Hill, S.C., was transported to the Watauga Medical Center. Jeannie Williams is now in stable condition, according to Gillian Baker, a spokesperson for Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.
Emergency personnel responded to the Best Western on Saturday at about 12:30 p.m. During that response, a presumptive test indicated an elevated level of carbon monoxide in the room, which is situated above a natural gas heater for the hotel’s swimming pool.
Watauga County Pathologist Dr. Brent Hall reported that Jeffrey Williams was autopsied on June 9, and preliminary indications are that he died from asphyxia, according to Crawford. Results are pending for toxicology samples that have been sent to the N.C. Office of Chief Medical Examiner.
As for Daryl and Shirley Jenkins, Hall noted to investigators that his office performed autopsies on April 17 and 18. Results to determine the cause of the couple’s death were inconclusive at the time, and samples were sent to N.C. Office of Chief Medical Examiner.
After another death nearly two months later, the analysis from the toxicology samples of the Jenkinses finally arrived and were received in the past 24 hours, Crawford noted at the press conference. The cause of death was determined to be carbon monoxide toxicity.
Hotels in the state aren’t required to have carbon monoxide alarms.
Crawford said that the investigation for the Jenkins’ case was still open prior to the death of the 11-year-old boy.
“Inquiries were made to the office of the state medical examiner on May 29 to request those toxicological results from the Jenkins’ case,” Crawford said. “[At that time] we were told that those results were not ready.”
Thee Best Western was ordered by the Watauga County Health Department to correct its ventilation system immediately – prior to the death of the 11-year-old boy and prior to the death of the older couple.
According to a Watauga County Health Department’s inspection of the pool performed on March 6, the “Chemical/Equipment room is required to have natural cross ventilation or forced air ventilation. This needs to be corrected ASAP. Consult inspector prior to making any installations.”
It’s unclear if this ventilation problem contributed to the elevated levels of carbon monoxide found in the hotel room.
“Does anyone know if that was corrected?” asked a reporter at the press conference.
Crawford and Isaacs said they were unaware of any reports or prior inspections involving the health department ordering the Best Western to correct the problem and deferred those questions to the Appalachian District Health Department, which has assisted local authorities in the current investigation. The health department sent out a release noting that it was assisting in the investigation. However, that release contained no information about a prior inspection or violation notice and representatives for the health department weren’t present at the press conference.
Calls to a cell phone of a spokesperson for the Appalachian District Health Department were not returned Monday afternoon and the health department’s offices were closed after the press conference with Crawford and Boone Fire Chief Jimmy Isaacs ended.
The Best Western remains closed and under control of the investigators. Management of the Best Western has declined to comment to the press since Saturday afternoon.
In the course of the investigations, the N.C. Emergency Management, N.C. Public Health Preparedness and Response Branch, and Regional Response Team 6 out of Asheville have also assisted local investigators in the police, fire and rescue fields.
On Wednesday, the N.C. State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating and Fire Sprinkler Contractors will assist in the investigation as well.
Doug Jenkins of Olympia said his parents were vacationing in Boone at the time of their death in April.
Efforts to contact Doug Jenkins were unsuccessful, however the Charlotte Observer reported that Jenkins was outraged that the Best Western, which is located across from New Market Center on the hill, continued to rent out the room even though toxicology reports hadn’t yet came through.
“Do you know how mad I am right now?” Jenkins asked. “Why are they still renting out this room?”
He told the Charlotte paper that family members traveling with the elderly couple found them lying two feet from each other with a cellphone nearby. He also said that a lawyer representing the Washington state family told the Best Western Plus in May “not to make any changes to the room before the family could perform an independent investigation.”
“Things just don’t add up,” Jenkins said, adding that his family is working with a lawyer but would wait to file a lawsuit until the toxicology reports come back.