By Jesse Wood
The family of Jeffrey Williams, the 11-year-old boy from Rock Hill, S.C., who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the Best Western hotel in Boone in 2013 has filed a lawsuit against a number of related parties and individuals.
Williams died and his mother, Jeannie suffered permanent brain damage, less than two months after a couple from Washington state died from carbon monoxide poisoning in the same room.
Unlike the estate of Daryl and Shirley Jenkins of Longview, Wash., the Williams family is suing the Town of Boone (Boone Police Department, Boone Fire Department and Boone Planning & Inspections).
One of the reasons the Town of Boone is listed in the 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.”
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
The Williams family is seeking to recover damages under a general statute regarding death by wrongful act.
Two complaints were also filed with the N.C. Industrial Commission against Medical Examiner’s Office of Watauga County, the state examiner’s office and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on behalf of Jeannie and Jeffrey Williams.
Both state that Dr. Brent Hall, the local medical examiner, “damaged in the amount of $1 million” with negligent conduct.
It also states that the aforementioned groups “failed to take immediate action” after the Jenkinses died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the same room that Williams would die about two months later of the same cause.
While local medical examiner Brent Hall, who resigned within two weeks after 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.
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, 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 that occurred, a prior complaint in a lawsuit filed by the Jenkinses estate alleged.
“The tragic events of June 8, 2013 have forever changed our families’ life,” parents Jeff and Jeannie Williams said in a statement. “Today’s actions in no way bring any healing to our family; instead, we intend to hold all parties involved in Jeffrey’s death accountable for their actions or lack thereof. Our true goal is to effect profound and dramatic change in the way business is conducted.”
The Poteat Law Firm of Columbia, S.C., and Smith Moore Leatherwood are representing the Williams family.
See filings below: