Updated: 5:53 a.m. Tuesday, June 11, 2013 | Posted: 11:09 p.m. Monday, June 10, 2013

Ventilation issues found at Best Western where 3 died

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By Trish Williford


State health officials will be in Boone on Wednesday to assist in the investigation of three deaths at a Best Western Hotel.

On April 16, there was a frantic 911 call from a Best Western Hotel employee. Inside room 225, Daryl and Shirley Jenkins were found unresponsive, and both died.

Then on Saturday afternoon, authorities found 11-year-old Jeffrey Williams dead and his mother, Jeannie, clinging to life -- both found inside the same Best Western room 225.

On Monday, Boone police held a news conference releasing what they had learned about the Jenkins' deaths.

"The cause of death in both cases was determined to be carbon monoxide toxicity," said Chief Dana Crawford, with the Boone Police Department.

Officials said the 11-year-old suffocated, but they are waiting for more tests from the state medical examiner to determine if carbon monoxide is to blame.

A press conference held by the Watauga County Health Department last 15 minutes. The director took only a handful of questions and it ended abruptly.  

Director Beth Lovette started by explaining the Health Department's March inspection of the Best Western's pool area before the deaths of three people including 11-year-old Jeffrey Williams of Rock Hill. 

The department's own inspector found problems with the ventilation system in the chemical equipment room located directly below where all three people died.   

"The chemical equipment room is required to have natural cross ventilation or forced air ventilation.    This needs to be corrected as soon as possible,” Lovette said.

The health department revealed Tuesday its inspection focused on ventilation pertaining to worker safety when handling pool chemicals. They said the inspection does not cover combustible gases from appliances. That is important because poisonous carbon monoxide gas has been linked to all three deaths. 

The health director also admitted for the first time she didn't know if any action was taken to improve the ventilation in the room.  

"We have not received additional follow up from the hotel.   So it wasn't fixed? We have not received additional follow up from the hotel about the storage of chlorine and additional chemicals,” Lovette said.

For the first time, Eyewitness News learned that two of the health department’s inspectors were in the motel when Daryl and Shirley Jenkins died in April. One of them performed CPR on the husband, but the health director couldn't say whether that employee made a connection between the earlier inspection issues and the deaths. 

Eyewitness News spoke Tuesday with a retired hotel chief engineer from New York about ways the carbon monoxide could have gotten in the room.

"It has to do with gas so it has either got to be heat exchanger, crack in the flu, seals are leaking, and then it has got to be able to get airborne. It has got to be able to get to the space,” said Doug Clay, retired chief engineer.

The State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating and Fire Sprinkler contractors will be in Boone on Wednesday to begin their investigation. Until then, the motel will stay closed.

Eyewitness News learned that on March 6, the Watauga County Health Department conducted an inspection on an indoor pool and chemical equipment room located right below Room 225.

Inspectors found the room was improperly ventilated and that it needed to be corrected as soon as possible.

Eyewitness News reached out to health officials Monday night to see if there were any follow-ups conducted, but so far has not received a response.

Police said they weren't aware of the inspection and don’t know if the ventilation issues are connected to the deaths.

An attorney for the hotel issued a statement Monday saying, in part, safety is their No. 1 priority and that they're cooperating with investigators.

The hotel room did not have a carbon monoxide detector, but it is not required by state law.

A statement from the family of Jeannie Williams

It is with a heavy heart that I provide the following statement on behalf of our family:

While we could not have predicted the events of the past few days, we can request that the media and the public respect that we have many difficult things to face in the coming days.  We ask for time to make these decisions and mourn our beloved son, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin, and friend, Jeffrey.

We ask for privacy as we help Jeannie heal.

We support a full investigation into the cause of this horrible tragedy and we will not rest until we are satisfied with the outcome.  The loss of Jeffrey from our family is immeasurable.Dr. Amber Williams

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