By Jesse Wood
A judge ruled yesterday that the civil lawsuit regarding the carbon monoxide deaths of Daryl and Shirley Jenkins at the Best Western hotel in Boone in 2013 must be tried in Watauga County.
Mecklenburg County Superior Court Judge Carla Archie sided with the attorneys for the parent company of the hotel, Best Western International, and other defendants, who argued for the case to be heard in Boone, where the deaths occurred and where the majority of witnesses reside, according to the Charlotte Observer.
“An attorney for Best Western argued that trying the case in Charlotte could jeopardize the public safety of Boone residents. He said 32 town employees – including 44 percent of the police force – would have to travel to Charlotte. ‘It would not promote the ends of justice by putting a North Carolina town at risk,’ attorney Steven Weaver said,” according to the report.
Meanwhile, Charles Monnett, who represents Doug Jenkins and Kris Jenkins Hauschildt, the son and daughter of the late Jenkins couple, argued for the trial to take place in Charlotte, where it would be “more convenient” for his clients, who would be flying in from Washington state, and where it would be easier to find jurors who didn’t know potential witnesses or defendants, according to the Charlotte Observer.
“They [also] are not interested in spending several weeks in a hotel in Boone,” Monnett said.
In a prior article, the Charlotte Observer noted that legal experts speculated that the lawsuit was initially filed in Mecklenburg County in February because “an urban jury removed from the small-town politics of Boone might be more willing to award heftier damages.”
Less than two months after the Jenkinses died in Room 225 in April 2013, 11-year-old Jeffrey Williams of Rock Hill, S.C., died in the same room. His mother, Jeannie Williams, who was staying with her son, suffered permanent brain damage due to carbon monoxide poisoning, according to former Assistant District Attorney Britt Springer.
A local, state and federal investigation confirmed that a deficient exhaust system for the hotel’s natural gas, pool water heater located underneath Room 225 led to the deaths of the three lodgers.
Along with the Best Western International, other defendants include AJD Investments, former owner of the hotel; Appalachian Hospitality Management (AHM), a company managing the hotel; Damon Mallatere, at-the-time president of AHM; Independence Oil, a company that was hired to convert the water heater from propane to natural gas; Thomas Daniel Miller, an employee of Independence Oil; and Dale Winkler of DJ’s Heating Service, who serviced the water heater.
Mallatere was charged with three counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of assault in relation to the three deaths and Jeannie Williams’ injuries. Mallatere entered an initial plea of not guilty. His case has been continued several times and the next administrative court date is set for Nov. 30.
The Williams family filed its own civil suit in June. Unlike the estate of the Jenkinses, the Williams family is suing the Town of Boone (Boone Police Department, Boone Fire Department and Boone Planning & Inspections).
When Mallatere’s charges were announced in January 2014, Mallatere’s attorney released a statement that Mallatere was “extremely disappointed” that the charges focused solely on him and not the contractors that converted the heater to natural gas. The statement also noted that the conversion was inspected by the Boone Planning & Inspections department.
One of the reasons the Town of Boone is listed in the Williams lawsuit is for “failing to take any steps to temporarily or permanently close the operations of the hotel until a determination could be made as to the cause of death of the Jenkinses.” For more info on that lawsuit, click here.
For more information on the Jenkins family lawsuit, click here.
For background and previous stories regarding this tragedy, click here.