ROCK HILL — An 11-year-old South Carolina boy’s burial Sunday followed a death North Carolina’s top health administrator says shouldn’t have happened.
Jeffrey Williams was scheduled to be buried in Rock Hill more than a week after he became the third person to die from carbon monoxide poisoning in the same room at Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza in Boone. His mother, Jeannie Williams, survived.
Tests completed a week before the boy’s death found carbon monoxide killed a Longview, Wash., woman, who died with her husband on April 16 in the same room. A state medical examiner didn’t notify local health officials who could have shut down the motel.
“These deaths were a tragedy that should have never happened,” state Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos said in a statement. “I have instructed my staff to work with local officials to identify measures to ensure tragedies like this never happen again.”
Wos spoke out after a series of investigative missteps by the state medical examiner’s office, which is overseen by Wos’s department, The Charlotte Observer reported.
Dr. Brent Hall, the Watauga County medical examiner who investigated the deaths, resigned Friday. Hall did not return a telephone call seeking comment Sunday. He is among more than 400 state-appointed medical examiners who are paid $100 per investigation.
Reports show 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. 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 Shirley Jenkins, 72, and her husband, Daryl Jenkins, 73, did not determine a cause of death. But the state medical examiner’s office learned on June 1 that toxicology tests showed Shirley Jenkins suffered a lethal level of carbon monoxide. The state agency sent the results to Hall, Health and Human Services Department spokesman Ricky Diaz said.
Neither the state nor Hall warned the hotel, Boone police or fire officials that the deadly gas had come from an unknown source to kill Shirley Jenkins.
Jeffrey died of carbon monoxide poisoning June 8. The state medical examiner’s office finished the toxicology report for Daryl Jenkins the following day.
Investigators later determined an improperly ventilated pool heater located a floor below the room was the source of the gas.