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Site of Tragedies, Best Western in Boone Sold, Rebranded; Update on Civil, Criminal Lawsuits

Recently, the Best Western sign along U.S. 421 in Boone was covered with a Quality Inn & Suites banner.
Recently, the Best Western sign along U.S. 421 in Boone was covered with a Quality Inn & Suites banner. Photo by Jesse Wood

By Jesse Wood

On Feb. 4, AJD Investments Inc. sold a 4.8-acre property featuring the Best Western in Boone to a real estate investment firm with a principal office in Miami Beach, Fla., for $6,410,000, according to the Watauga County Register of Deeds.

Room 225 in the Best Western in Boone was the site of three deaths in 2013 where a couple from Washington, Daryl and Shirley Jenkins, both in their early 70’s, and 11-year-old Jeffrey Williams of Rock Hill, S.C., died within two months of each other.

The cause of the deaths was carbon monoxide poisoning, which was caused by a deficient exhaust system for the hotel’s natural gas pool water heat that was located underneath Room 225.

Since the property was sold, the Best Western has been rebranded as a Quality Inn & Suites. Recently, the Best Western sign along U.S. 421 in Boone was covered with a Quality Inn & Suites banner.

A message left on the media line of LNR Property, which has the same Florida address as the limited liability company that purchased the property, was not immediately returned on Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, the criminal and civil suits associated with the deaths remain in court.

In Jan. 2014, Damon Mallatere, president of Appalachian Hospitality Management (AHM), the company managing the hotel at the time of the deaths, was charged with three counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of assault, the latter of which was charged for the non-lethal injuries Williams’ mom, Jeannie, suffered in Room 225.

He entered an initial plea of not guilty. His case has been continued numerous times. According to the N.C Court System’s online database, Mallatere’s next court date is July 6.

In Feb. 2015, attorneys for the family of the Jenkinses filed a civil suit in Mecklenburg County Superior Court against Best Western International; AJD Investments; AHM; Mallatere; 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.

The 21-page complaint filed in Mecklenburg County alleged that the defendants were negligent and outlined a series of equipment failures and human errors from numerous parties involved that lead to the hotel deaths.

Last night, the Charlotte Observer, citing documents in Mecklenburg Superior Court, reported that the defendants denied liability and noted that if they were to be found negligent than others were “proximately negligent.”

It was also reported that the defendants asked for the venue of the court case be changed from Mecklenburg County to Watauga County.

“Charles Monnett, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Jenkins family in February, has declined to say why he chose Mecklenburg Superior Court,” according to the Charlotte Observer. “… Legal observers speculate the reason Mecklenburg was chosen is because an urban jury removed from the small-town politics of Boone might be more willing to award heftier damages.”

In addition, the Williams family is expected to file a civil suit of its own in the coming weeks as statue of limitations is two years.

For background and previous stories regarding this tragedy, click here.