Family of Couple Who Died in Best Western in Boone Files Lawsuit Against Hotel Owners, Operators, Contractors

Published Tuesday, February 10, 2015 at 5:29 pm

By Jesse Wood

Feb. 10, 2015. Attorneys for the family of Daryl and Shirley Jenkins, the vacationing couple from Longview, Wash., who died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a hotel room in the Best Western Plus in April 2013, filed a lawsuit against Best Western International, the parent company of the local hotel, and a number of other parties on Monday.

Less than two months after the Jenkinses died in Room 225, 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.

Other defendants include AJD Investments, owner of the hotel; Appalachian Hospitality Management (AHM), a company managing the hotel; Damon Mallatere, the 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.

“The lawsuit outlines a series of equipment failures and human errors that directly created the conditions which caused their deaths,” according to a release from Jenkins family announcing the lawsuit.

The 21-page complaint filed in Mecklenburg County Superior Court alleges that the defendants were negligent, resulting in the death of Daryl and Shirley Jenkins. See more details that the complaint alleges below.

One year ago, 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 next court appearance is set for Feb. 16. District Attorney Seth Banks didn’t immediately respond to questions on the case on Tuesday.

When the 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.

Last year, the State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating and Fire Sprinkler Contractors suspended the license of two contractors – Winkler and Miller – that performed work at the Best Western prior to the deaths. Miller agreed to a one-year suspension, while Winkler filed an appeal in Watauga County Superior Court.

In addition, the state board found that three employees of Appalachian Hospitality Management – Harold Robinson, Rich Moses and Steven Thigpen – weren’t licensed to perform work on the propane pool water heater before it was converted to natural gas.

In October 2011, the three employees replaced a pool water heater with another propane heater from The Sleep Inn, which was also managed by Appalachian Hospitality Management. Months later in February 2012, the used pool water heater was converted to natural gas by Independence Oil in February 2012.

Manufacturer instructions noted that the water heater shouldn’t be converted; that carbon monoxide detectors should be placed in the vicinity of the appliance and in adjacent occupied spaces; and that a new ventilation system should be installed when replacing an existing pool heater.

None of the occurred, the complaint alleged.

The plaintiff is seeking punitive damages and a sum in excess of $10,000.

In addition to the lawsuit, the release noted that the family is renewing their call for carbon monoxide detectors to be installed in every hotel room in the country.

Following the deaths in 2013, the N.C. General Assembly passed a law requiring lodging establishments to install detectors in every enclosed space with a fossil-fuel burning heater appliance or fire place and in every room that shares a common wall, floor and ceiling with those spaces.

The Jenkinses died together on April 16. Williams passed away nearly two months later in the same room in June. It wasn’t until the boy’s passing that authorities linked the three deaths and decided to test for carbon monoxide inside the hotel.

While local medical examiner Brent Hall, who resigned within two weeks of Williams’ death, requested an analysis for carbon monoxide toxicity from the state in April, the Boone Police Department didn’t receive those results until after Williams had died.

Ricky Diaz, a spokesman for N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said that while the N.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner didn’t expedite Jenkinses’ results because Hall didn’t request them to be expedited, Hall received those results via email one week before the second tragedy in Room 225 struck. Hall hasn’t responded to comment since the investigation began following the deaths.

The Boone Fire Department has since added equipment to monitor carbon monoxide levels.

Attorneys representing Mallatere and Appalachian Hospitality Management either didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the civil lawsuit or didn’t have a statement at this time.

Read the entire complaint here. Below is what the complaint alleges for each defendant:

Best Western International

  1. It failed to warn hotel guests and other occupants of the Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza Hotel of the hidden danger created by the defective and dangerous pool heater exhaust vent system and the presence of deadly levels of carbon monoxide gas;
  2. It failed to adequately inspect the Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza Hotel building and to detect the presence of dangerous hidden conditions in the building including the lack of a proper exhaust vent system for the pool heater and inadequate fire stopping through rated firewalls;
  3. It failed to establish, maintain and enforce adequate guest safety standards for its hotel properties, including the Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza Hotel located in Boone, North Carolina;
  4. It failed to establish, maintain and enforce adequate guest safety standards for its hotel properties, including the failure to require installation of carbon monoxide detectors in the pool equipment room, swimming pool area, guest rooms and other areas adjacent to the pool heater in the Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza Hotel located in Boone, North Carolina as recommended by the pool heater manufacturer and as required by reasonable safety practices in the hotel and hospitality industry;
  5. It failed to establish, maintain and enforce adequate guest safety standards for its hotel properties which would prohibit the use of unlicensed contractors to perform work on hotel buildings and the equipment located therein; and
  6. It was otherwise careless and negligent in other ways as may be revealed in discovery to be conducted in this action.

AJD Investments

  1. It failed to warn hotel guests and other occupants of the building of the hidden danger created by the defective and dangerous pool heater exhaust vent system and the presence of deadly levels of carbon monoxide gas;
  2. It failed to adequately inspect the Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza Hotel building and to detect the presence of dangerous hidden conditions in the building, including the lack of a proper vent system for the pool heater and inadequate fire stopping through rated firewalls;
  3. It failed to repair or replace the electric power venter which was an essential part of the pool heater exhaust vent system when it became inoperable;
  4. It failed to install carbon monoxide detectors in the pool equipment room, swimming pool area, guest rooms and other areas adjacent to the pool heater as recommended by the pool heater manufacturer and as required by reasonable safety practices in the hotel and hospitality industry;
  5. It allowed unlicensed contractors to perform work on the Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza Hotel building and the equipment located therein;
  6. It allowed employees of Appalachian Hospitality Management, Inc. to perform work on the Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza Hotel building and the equipment located therein without being properly licensed by the State of North Carolina and without obtaining proper permits and inspections from local government authorities;
  7. It allowed Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza Hotel building equipment to be modified in ways that were prohibited by the equipment manufacturer, particularly the conversion of the pool heater from propane to natural gas;
  8. It allowed highly caustic and corrosive chemicals such as chlorine to be stored in the room containing the Jandy pool heater and other swimming pool mechanical equipment in violation of the manufacturers’ instructions and reasonable practices within the hospitality industry; and
  9. And it was otherwise careless and negligent in other ways as may be revealed in discovery to be conducted in this action.

Damon Mallatere and Appalachian Hospitality Management

  1. They failed to warn hotel guests and other occupants of the Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza Hotel building of the hidden danger created by the defective and dangerous pool heater vent system and the presence of deadly levels of carbon monoxide gas;
  2. They failed to adequately inspect the Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza Hotel building and to detect the presence of dangerous hidden conditions in the building including the lack of a proper vent system for the pool heater and inadequate fire stopping through rated firewalls;
  3. They improperly stored highly caustic and corrosive chemicals such chlorine in the room containing the Jandy pool heater and other swimming pool mechanical equipment in violation of the manufacturers’ instructions and reasonable practices within the hospitality industry;
  4. They failed to repair or replace the power venter contained in the pool heater vent system when it became an operable;
  5. They failed to install carbon monoxide detectors in the pool equipment room, swimming pool area, guest rooms and other areas adjacent to the pool heater as recommended by the pool heater manufacturer and as required by reasonable safety practices in the hotel and hospitality industry;
  6. They allowed unlicensed contractors to perform work on the hotel building and the equipment located therein;
  7. They directed and allowed employees of Appalachian Hospitality Management, Inc. to perform work on the hotel building and the equipment located therein without being properly licensed by the state of North Carolina and without obtaining proper permits and inspections from local government authorities;
  8. They allowed hotel building equipment to be modified in ways that were prohibited by the equipment manufacturer, particularly the conversion of the pool heater from propane to natural gas; and
  9. And they were otherwise careless, negligent and grossly negligent in other ways as may be revealed in discovery to be conducted in this action.

Thomas Miller and Independence Oil and Gas

  1. They failed to properly supervise and/or perform the gas conversion work at the Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza Hotel;
  2. They performed work on gas fired appliances located in the Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza Hotel which violated the minimum standards of the North Carolina State Fuel Gas Code;
  3. They converted the Jandy propane gas pool heater to natural gas in violation of the manufacturer’s installation and operation instructions;
  4. They failed to properly convert the Jandy pool heater from propane to natural gas by not replacing the pilot, burner tray assembly and gas valve with the appropriate part as specified by the manufacturer;
  5. They unreasonably and recklessly created a risk of personal injury or property damage; and
  6. They were otherwise negligent and such other ways as may be revealed by discovery to be conducted in this action.

Dale Thomas Winkler of DJ’s Heating Services

  1. Defendant Dale Thomas Winkler, Jr. placed the pool heater into service despite the obvious deficiencies in the pool heater exhaust vent system and the existence of extremely hazardous conditions as a result;
  2. Defendant Dale Thomas Winkler, Jr. failed to instruct Appalachian Hospitality Management maintenance staff to disable the Jandy pool heater until a proper exhaust vent system was installed;
  3. Defendant Dale Thomas Winkler, Jr. failed to contact the gas utility company and advise them to shut off the gas until a proper exhaust vent system was installed on the pool heater;
  4. Defendant Dale Thomas Winkler, Jr. failed to repair or replace the power venter in the pool heater exhaust system prior to placing the pool heater back in operation;
  5. Defendant Dale Thomas Winkler, Jr. failed to connect the control wiring to the power venter in the pool heater exhaust system prior to placing the pool heater back in operation;
  6. Defendant Dale Thomas Winkler, Jr. failed to properly inspect or evaluate the condition and efficacy of the venting system between the pool heater and the exterior of the building prior to placing the pool heater back in operation;
  7. Defendant Dale Thomas Winkler, Jr. left the pool heater in operation despite numerous open, obvious and readily observable safety hazards which exposed the occupants of the hotel building to serious personal injury or death;
  8. Defendant Dale Thomas Winkler, Jr. performed work on the hotel building and the equipment located therein without being properly licensed by the state of North Carolina and without obtaining proper permits and inspections from local government authorities; and
  9. Defendant Dale Thomas Winkler, Jr. was otherwise careless, negligent and grossly negligent in such other ways as may be revealed in discovery to be conducted in this action.

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