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Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford, right, and Fire Chief Jimmy Isaacs provide updates on the
Best Western investigation to members of the press Wednesday at the hotel site. Tom Mayer |
Watauga Democrat

Originally published: 2013-06-12 17:58:43
Last modified: 2013-06-12 19:26:00

CO fumes linked to hotel pool heater

by Anna Oakes

Investigators said preliminary results of tests and inspections conducted at Boone's Best Western hotel today indicated the source of fatal carbon monoxide levels in room 225 was a pool water heater located in the pool mechanical room, which is located underneath the hotel room.

"The exhaust system for the pool water heater had multiple deficiencies," Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford said at a press conference at Best Western Wednesday. "Several avenues of entry for carbon monoxide into room 225 had been observed, including the wall mount HVAC unit and through an opening underneath the gas fireplace."

Local investigators were joined today by investigators from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the N.C. State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating and Fire Sprinkler Contractors. 

Boone Fire Chief Jimmy Isaacs said one way carbon monoxide entered the room was through the ceiling of the pool mechanical room, through a void and then into room 225's gas fireplace area. The other avenue was exhaust being pulled in from the outside through the room's heating and air conditioning unit.

"The vent that was in close proximity to the HVAC unit, there again, the wind direction lined up ... we were getting exhaust coming back into the building through there," Isaacs said.

The same pool equipment room was cited with a violation by Appalachian District Health Department inspector Lori Durham on March 6, stating the room is required to have natural cross ventilation or forced air ventilation and that the violation "needs to be corrected ASAP." Health department officials said Tuesday they did not know if the hotel had corrected the issue, stating the violation was not required to be checked for compliance until the next semi-annual inspection.

But when asked whether the ventilation requested by the health department would have made a difference, Isaacs replied, "probably not."

"I think a lot of this is going to come down from lack of maintenance," he said. Isaacs said the venting system was suffering from deficiencies and corrosion.

"Pool areas are inherently corrosive. Chlorine is a very strong oxidizer. It's going to accelerate the corrosion process in these areas," he said. "When you have a piece of equipment that's subject to corrosion, it's going to require more maintenance."

Isaacs said today's efforts focused on the source of elevated carbon monoxide levels and that he did not know if violations of local, state or federal laws by the hotel or public agencies had been identified. He said the fire department's role in the investigation is primarily complete and that the police department would oversee ongoing efforts.

Investigators ask that anyone who stayed in room 225 contact the Boone Police Department at 828-268-6900 or email Sgt. Matt Stevens at (  

Crawford said many theories have been confirmed but that the investigation must continue in efforts to find definitive answers. The chief said it is still early in the investigation but "that potential is there" for criminal charges, and he said investigators have been in contact with the district attorney's office.