Agencies face scrutiny in hotel deaths
by Anna Oakes
Many questions remain unsatisfied in the wake of two fatal incidents in the same Best Western hotel room in Boone, which authorities now believe to be the result of elevated carbon monoxide levels.
At the scene June 8, Boone Fire Department conducted a "presumptive test" that indicated an elevated level of carbon monoxide in Best Western room 225, where 11-year-old Jeffrey Lee Williams was found dead June 8 and Daryl and Shirley Jenkins, a couple in their 70s, died April 16.
The Appalachian District Health Department has been serving as a consulting agency in the investigation and has scheduled a 2 p.m. press conference Tuesday. Health department officials were not present at a conference held by Boone Police and Fire departments Tuesday.
The department is responsible for conducting routine inspections of lodging facilities, including swimming pools, and on March 6 of this year an inspector cited the Best Western with a number of violations. Among them was a citation noting that the "chemical/equipment room is required to have natural cross ventilation or forced air ventilation. This needs to be corrected ASAP."
It is not clear at this time whether any cited violations are related to the April and June deaths.
But Sgt. Shane Robbins, public information officer for the Boone Police Department, said to his knowledge, "the health department was not consulted about the April 16 incident." Robbins did not respond to a question asking why the health department was not consulted in April.
Robbins said room 225 is a suite-type room, and it is located above the pool. When asked if investigators have pinpointed the source of the carbon monoxide fumes, Robbins said the investigation is ongoing.
"There are not any theories that I can comment on," he said.
A call to Dr. Brent Hall, regional pathologist at Watauga Medical Center, was immediately transferred to the hospital system's corporate communications department. Officials said Hall was the medical examiner who gathered preliminary autopsy information for the April 16 and June 8 deaths.
Information from the Watauga County Register of Deeds and GIS system indicate the Best Western property was sold to AJD Investments in May 2007. The records say the hotel was built in 2000.
Various sources, including health department documents, indicate the Best Western is among several hotels in Boone operated by Appalachian Hospitality Associates.
Calls to Appalachian Hospitality Associates were not returned Monday or Tuesday.