DA weighs evidence in hotel deaths
by Anna Oakes
A decision on criminal charges in relation to three deaths at Boone's Best Western hotel earlier this year will not be announced until at least mid-January, the district attorney's office said Friday.
On Thursday, the Boone Police Department presented findings from its investigation of the April and June deaths at the hotel linked to carbon monoxide leaks from the hotel's swimming pool water heater and exhaust system.
Chief Prosecutor Britt Springer issued a statement Friday, saying, "We will now carefully review the report and determine, based upon the evidence, what, if any, criminal charges should be brought. Considering the length and detail of the report it will take some time to go through it. We hope to announce our decision by the middle of January."
Springer was unavailable for additional questions Friday. District Attorney Jerry Wilson would not comment on which charges may be considered.
"We're not looking at any particular charges; we're looking at the evidence to see what it does show," Wilson said. Asked whether the victims' families would play a role in the decision, Wilson said, "We will certainly be in touch with the victims' families, (but) no it will not and it's not supposed to -- it's supposed to be based solely on the evidence. I can't base a charge on trying to make a family feel better or out of sympathy for the family.
"If the evidence is there we will charge somebody; if the evidence is not there, we won't," he said.
"If there is a charge, if it's a serious charge, obviously it's going to be over a year before it goes to trial," Wilson added.
Should the victims' families decide to pursue civil lawsuits, they could proceed at the same time as a criminal trial, but that would be up to the civil attorneys, he explained: "Some wait and see what happens in the criminal action." Mark Brumbaugh, an attorney for the family of Daryl and Shirley Jenkins, said in June that his clients would pursue a claim against the hotel.
Wilson said the two-hour presentation Thursday included representatives from the Boone Police Department and Boone Planning & Inspections Department, including Police Capt. Andy Le Beau and town building inspector Todd Miller.
"The Boone Police Department has done a very exhaustive, very in-depth, excellent investigation into the matter," said Wilson. "It's very detailed. It's going to take some time for us to do an appropriate job -- I don't want to prosecute someone just off the cuff." Wilson said Springer would take the lead on the case.
Reached for comment this week, Le Beau and Miller indicated that they had been asked to refer all media inquiries to the district attorney's office.
Investigators concluded that carbon monoxide poisoning killed Daryl and Shirley Jenkins, ages 73 and 72, of Longview, Wash., on April 16 and 11-year-old Jeffrey Williams of Rock Hill, S.C., on June 8. Williams' mother, Jeannie, was hospitalized with injuries from carbon monoxide exposure. All four stayed in room 225.
An N.C. Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson said the toxicology tests determining the Jenkins' causes of death were not expedited by a state lab because the request forms indicated the possible cause of death as an overdose and that no circumstantial information communicated a need to expedite the request.
Various government officials, including local building inspectors,
health departments and fire marshals, conduct safety inspections of hotel
facilities. Wilson declined to comment when asked about what actions would be
taken if the investigation revealed that a public agency erred in its duties.