Contractors could face actions in hotel probe
by Anna Oakes
Dale Dawson said the board has completed its investigation connected to the fatal carbon monoxide poisonings of Daryl and Shirley Jenkins, a couple in their 70s, on April 16 and of 11-year-old Jeffrey Lee Williams on June 8.
Authorities attributed all three deaths to elevated carbon monoxide levels in room 225 originating from an indoor pool water heater and a faulty exhaust system.
"The investigation's complete, and now we're in the state of giving the stuff to the attorney," Dawson said. "We've already talked to the attorney about our next steps."
Dawson said he could not release detailed information about the board's investigation at this time.
"We are looking at some individuals that did participate in this that didn't have the appropriate license," he said. He said there's also a possibility that a licensed contractor could face actions from the state board.
The Board of Examiners is authorized to suspend or revoke the license of any contractor that does not comply with state laws.
Contractors performing plumbing, heating or fire sprinkler work without a proper license could be found guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.
"We can't make the actions themselves public until we've gone through the appropriate process," Dawson said.
Charges of conducting work without a license would be handled through the court process, Dawson said. The State Board of Examiners has its own attorney that prosecutes such cases, which typically takes place in Wake County, he said.
For any licensed contractors found to be involved, the board would hold a settlement conference. The board would make an offer to the licensee at the conference, after which there would be a 30-day appeal period before actions would be finalized, he said.
Dawson said a conference has not yet been scheduled for this case.
"We really hate what's happened, and our hearts go out to the families. We're trying to keep in sight what's important," he said. "But we've still got to make sure that we go through the right processes and that everyone is treated fairly."
Boone Planning and Inspections Department Director Bill Bailey told the Watauga Democrat in June that the last time his department inspected the facility was in March 2012, when the hotel converted to natural gas service. No irregularity in the pool water heater was noted at that time, Bailey said
"We have nothing in the file denoting any type of irregularity," he said.
Court documents filed as part of a 2013 complaint indicate that Independence Oil was contracted to perform natural gas conversions for Appalachian Hospitality Management, which operates the Best Western and several Boone hotels.
A proposal dated Jan. 10, 2012, stated that Independence Oil would complete the natural gas conversions at Best Western, Sleep Inn, La Quinta Inn, Super 8, Country Inn and Suites and Hampton Inn. The proposal for Best Western stated that the conversion would include service to a Jandy pool heater.
The proposal said Independence Oil would "pressure test all equipment to ensure a leak-free system," "replace each appliance that cannot be converted with new equipment that is equipped for natural gas," "guarantee that the existing pipe will be adequate for a natural gas system" and "require that all existing equipment must be in proper working order prior to our conversion work."
The Watauga Democrat does not know if Independence Oil is among the contractors that could face potential actions by the State Board of Examiners.
A woman who answered the phone at the company's Independence, Va., office said that J. Randall Eller -- who was listed as president of Independence Oil by in a March 25 annual report to the N.C. secretary of state -- no longer works there. She declined to provide the name of the current president or anyone who could respond to questions about the Best Western investigation.
A representative at the company's West Jefferson office took a message, but the Watauga Democrat did not receive a return call as of presstime Thursday. Any responses to questions for Independence Oil will be published in a future article.
The Boone Police Department has not yet concluded its investigation of the incident.
"We are still actively working on interviewing every employee, many of the guests and others involved," Boone Police Investigations Commander Andy Le Beau said Sept. 10.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the State Board of Examiners would present information on unlicensed contractors in its Best Western hotel investigation to the district attorney. The State Board of Examiners has its own attorney that prosecutes such cases, which typically takes place in Wake County, Dawson said.