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Mecklenburg Judge Rules To Move Second Best Western Civil Lawsuit Trial To Watauga

By Jesse Wood

Mecklenburg County Superior Court Judge Bob Bell ruled on Friday that the civil trial over the death of Jeffrey Williams, an 11-year-old boy who died in the Best Western hotel in Boone in 2013, should be held in Watauga County – and not Charlotte.

Jeffrey Williams

This ruling comes about two months after another Mecklenburg judge decided the same in a separate civil trial regarding the deaths of Daryl and Shirley Jenkins, a Washington couple in their 70’s who died less than two months after Williams in the exact same room of the Boone hotel. All three died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Williams’ mom, who survived the incident, suffered permanent brain damage.

The Charlotte Observer reported that Bell heard arguments on Thursday and that an attorney for the Williams family argued that “family members [should] be spared the trauma of returning to the town where Jeffrey died.”

“Defense attorneys countered that the case should be heard where the death occurred and most witnesses reside. Bell agreed,” the Charlotte paper reported.

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.”

Unlike the estate of the Jenkins family, the Williams family is suing the Town of Boone (Boone Police Department, Boone Fire Department and Boone Planning & Inspections) for, one example, “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.”

Other agencies or individuals named in the lawsuit:

    • Best Western International
    • AJD Investments (owner of hotel)
    • Appalachian Hospitality Management (company managing hotel)
    • Damon Mallatere (president of AHM at time of deaths)
    • Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza (local franchise)
    • Independence Oil (hired to convert water heater to natural gas)
    • Dale Thomas Winkler Jr. (serviced water heater)
    • DJ’s Heating Services (hired to service water heater)
    • Thomas Daniel Miller (employee of Independence Oil)
    • Patrick Nolan of Expert Air

In addition to the two civil trials, Mallatere also faces three counts of involuntary manslaughter. Mallatere’s case has been continued for nearly two years since a grand jury indictment on Jan. 8, 2014.

In October, District Attorney Seth Banks cited a “tremendous volume of discovery” as one reason for the continuations.

For previous stories on this tragedy, click here.