New Law Follows in Wake of Carbon Monoxide Tragedies

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, silent killer. Released from burning fuels like petroleum, kerosene or wood, carbon monoxide (CO) is deadly in a poorly ventilated room, building or garage. A new North Carolina law applying to operators of hotels and commercial lodgings aims to reduce the possibility of tragedies like those that occurred in Watauga County earlier this year.

On April 16, Shirley Mae Jenkins and her husband, Daryl, spent the night in room 225 at the Best Western Blue Ridge Plaza hotel. Unbeknown to the couple, room 225 is located directly above the room where a natural gas heater warms the hotel swimming pool. From the poorly ventilated equipment room below, carbon monoxide dissipated upward into room 225. Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins were found dead the next morning.

On June 1, toxicology reports ordered by the Watauga County medical examiner returned, showing fatal levels of carbon monoxide in tissue samples taken from Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins. On June 8, Jeffrey Williams, an 11-year-old from Rock Hills, South Carolina, and his mother checked into the Best Western and were given room 225.

Jeffrey died that night, and his mother was critically injured. On June 10, the police announced Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins were poisoned by carbon monoxide. On June 14, the medical examiner found the same blood concentration of CO in the blood of Jeffrey Williams.

Effective October 1, House Bill 74 requires the following of North Carolina lodging establishments:

  • All rooms with a fuel-burning device or a common wall with a room containing a fuel-burning device must have carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Battery, wired or plug-in detectors are allowed, but they must have a battery backup.
  • Firefighting personnel are to conduct routine inspections.

Three people were killed by carbon monoxide, and a delay in the release of the medical report cost Jeffrey his life and seriously injured his mother. Preventable injury and death is tragic, no matter the cause.

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