By Gavin Off
June 15, 2013Three days after an elderly couple died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a Boone hotel room, a group of girls celebrating a friend’s 13th birthday became violently sick in a suite one floor above the contaminated room, parents said.The illnesses at a pool sleepover party at the Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza suggest that the deadly gas might have leaked beyond Room 225, where three people have died of carbon monoxide poisoning since April. Although their health problems were not documented, the girls’ symptoms matched those of carbon monoxide exposure. A parent says they were never told of the deaths even after partygoers complained of becoming ill.
Boone resident Serene Solinski rented Room 325 on April 19, just three days after Daryl Dean Jenkins, 73, and Shirley Mae Jenkins, 72, died from carbon monoxide in the room below. Last Saturday, the gas killed a Rock Hill boy, Jeffrey Williams, in the same room where the Jenkinses stayed in April. The boy’s mother, Jeannie Williams, survived and is recuperating in a local hospital, a family member said.
Solinski said she told Boone investigators about the illnesses at the party after learning that Williams, 11, died at the hotel. But she complained three times to hotel workers during and after her stay in April, Solinski said. “They just kind of looked at me blankly and said, ‘OK, I’ll let the general manager know,’” Solinski said. “I felt like my family and I were thrown into the lion’s den.”
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas emitted by fuel-burning machines and can cause death in minutes. Like most states, North Carolina does not require carbon monoxide detectors in hotels.
The Best Western in Boone is run by Appalachian Hospitality Management Inc., according to Watauga County Health Department records from March. Media reports and a 2012 health department inspection form say the hotel is owned by AJD Investments.
Hickory attorney Paul Culpepper, who represents the management group, said Solinski complained twice, mentioning a strong chlorine smell.
The N.C. Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating and Fire Sprinkler Contractors said Wednesday that deficiencies in the indoor pool’s water heater caused the gas leak.
‘Dropping like flies’
The birthday party for Solinski’s 13-year-old daughter, Levi, began near the hotel pool around 4:30 p.m. on April 19.
After a swim and cake, Solinski and about nine girls headed to the hotel suite. There, they set up a spa, with areas for the girls to have their hair, nails and makeup done. The room’s gas fireplace, California king bed and heart-shaped hot tub made Solinski think she got a bargain. The suite cost $120. “It was pretty fancy and we were pretty excited,” Solinski said. “I felt very lucky I got the hotel room with the hot tub in it.”
But within 90 minutes, the girls got sick, some violently. Some complained of headaches and stomach aches. Others felt hot or nauseated and threw up. “The kids were dropping like flies,” she said. Even Levi – the birthday girl – lay down and asked that the TV be turned off and no one talk.
Solinski, who didn’t get as sick as the kids, wondered about the problem. Was it bad pizza? A pool with too much chlorine? Solinski pried open a window to air out the stuffy room. Soon, she decided to call parents to pick up their children.
Mimi Archer, 48, of Beech Mountain picked up her 12-year-old daughter, Zoa, at around 8:30 p.m. Before leaving the hotel parking lot, Zoa vomited five times. Archer said she, too, has told Boone police about the incident.
“How can they (hotel officials) do that,” she said. “I don’t understand how they could sweep something like that under the rug.”