N.C. Secretary said deaths at Boone motel shouldn’t have happened

goff@charlotteobserver.comJune 15, 2013 

The head of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said Saturday that three deaths at a Boone motel “should have never happened,” and the state is reviewing its role in the troubled investigation.

Secretary Aldona Wos’ statement comes a day after the resignation of Dr. Brent Hall, the Watauga County medical examiner who investigated the deaths.

“My heartfelt condolences go out to the families and loved ones of Shirley and Daryl Jenkins, and young Jeffrey Williams,” her statement read. “These deaths were a tragedy that should have never happened. The Department of Health and Human Services is continuing to gather the facts. I have instructed my staff to work with local officials to identify measures to ensure tragedies like this never happen again.”

The Jenkinses died of carbon monoxide poisoning on April 16 at the Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza. The gas killed Jeffrey, 11, of Rock Hill, and left his mother, Jeannie Williams, unconscious. They were in the same second-floor hotel room last weekend.

Jeffrey’s funeral is 2 p.m. Sunday at First Baptist Church in Rock Hill.

Wos’ released the letter after the Observer found a series of investigative missteps by the N.C. medical examiner’s office.

Reports show that Hall did not view any of the three bodies at the scene, where experts say he could have gathered additional clues into what killed the guests.

Additionally, no one – neither death investigators nor local emergency personnel – ever asked for an expedited carbon monoxide test of the bodies or the hotel.

The April autopsies for the Jenkinses did not find a cause of death, and it took nearly two months for the medical examiner’s office to complete toxicology tests on the Washington state couple, records show.

On June 1, the state medical examiner knew Shirley Jenkins, 72, had a lethal level of carbon monoxide in her blood when she died. Ricky Diaz, spokesman for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the N.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, said the state sent the lab results to Hall.

Neither the state nor Hall warned the hotel, Boone police or fire officials of the possible danger.

Asked Friday why the state did not warn local authorities of the poison threat at that time, Diaz said “that’s a fair question for Dr. Hall.”

Jeffrey died of carbon monoxide poisoning June 8. His mother was found unconscious but is recovering in a local hospital. A family member said she is expected to attend her son’s funeral Sunday.

The N.C. medical examiner’s office finished the toxicology report for Daryl Jenkins, 73, on June 9, a day after Williams died.

He, too, had a carbon monoxide concentration of more than 60 percent, records show. Any concentration more than 50 percent is typically fatal.

Boone police are asking that anyone who stayed in Room 225 at the Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza to call police at 828-268-6900, or email Sgt. Matt Stevens at matt.stevens@townofboone.net.

Off: 704-358-6038

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