Carbon Monoxide Deaths in MD, NC Under Investigation

Investigators believe that a gas generator may be responsible for the carbon monoxide poisoning death of a Pennsylvania man who was camping in Maryland.  

William E. Miller, of Windber, Pennsylvania, died earlier this month in his RV at the Alleghany County Fairgrounds in Cresaptown. His wife, Ruth, was treated at a Cumberland hospital. The couple, both in their 70s, were sleeping several feet away from a gas generator near the rear of their RV when they suffered carbon monoxide poisoning, officials say.

The gas generator’s exhaust was being pumped toward their vehicle, and the fumes entered while the couple slept. Miller was pronounced dead at the scene and his wife was critically injured.

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Cases of carbon monoxide tend to be rare in the summer and spring months, with most CO deaths occurring in the winter as people try to heat their homes. However, this summer has seen a number of high profile carbon monoxide cases.

In early July, 12 people were injured and one was killed in boating incidents due to carbon monoxide exposure. And a North Carolina hotel is still under investigation for three carbon monoxide deaths that occurred in the same room over a matter of weeks.

The deaths of an elderly couple and a young boy took place in April and June in the Best Western Blue Ridge Plaza hotel in Boone. The deaths were believed to be caused by carbon monoxide fumes from a pool heater in a mechanical room on the floor below.

The North Carolina deaths have led to new legislation requiring all hotels in that state to have carbon monoxide detectors. The legislation was tacked onto a regulatory bill in July, passed, and signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory last week.

Some state and local officials have been criticized for the handling of the cases. The medical examiner was accused of botching autopsies of the couple, and they were not diagnosed as having died due to carbon monoxide for weeks. Dr. Brent Hall, the Watauga County medical examiner, resigned as a result.

State health workers were also accused of dropping the ball on the investigation, but the state has said it cannot find any wrongdoing in its employees’ actions. A previous investigation of the hotel had cited that there was a problem with the ventilation in the room where the pool heater was located, but nothing was done.

The hotel has not escaped blame in the incident, either, the owners manual for the pool heater expressly recommended that any hotel using the heater install carbon monoxide detectors to protect visitors, but the Best Western had none.

Carbon Monoxide Risks

Carbon monoxide is a significantly toxic gas that has no irritating factors that can allow someone to detect its presence.

Because people often fail to promptly recognize symptoms of carbon monoxide, it is a leading cause of fatal poisonings in the United States.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, carbon monoxide poisoning kills about 500 people in the U.S. annually, and is linked to about 15,000 emergency room visits. In many cases, the injuries or deaths could have been prevented by the use of carbon monoxide detectors and proper maintenance of heating systems and generators.

Although many states have passed legislation requiring carbon monoxide alarms in rental properties and homes, it remains rare for hotels to have carbon monoxide alarms to alert guests and staff when there is a problem.

According to a report last year by USA Today, at least 170 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning injuries at hotels were identified between 2009 and 2012, including at least 8 deaths.


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