Landlord was warned not to rent Furnace gas leak killed 2-year-old girl

March 12, 1992|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer

The owner of an East Baltimore house where carbon monoxide from a faulty furnace killed a 2-year-old girl Tuesday night was ordered Feb. 14 not to rent the home until it was reinspected, city housing officials said yesterday.

Last night they said they had still not been able to find the landlord, Zelick A. Gresser.

The officials, who think an unlicensed repairman may have worked on the furnace, said they wanted to ask Mr. Gresser what he knew of the faulty repairs and why the baby and her parents were living in the house after it had been posted as unfit for habitation.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. personnel also placed an out-of-service notice and a warning on the furnace after the family moved into the house last week.

"He [Mr. Gresser] was told that the house was not to be occupied until it had been repaired and inspected by us," Bill Toohey of the Department of Housing and Community Development said yesterday. "But at this point, we don't even know if he actively rented out the house or whether someone just moved in."

Tiera Monet Moyd was found dead at the two-story rowhouse in the 1900 block of North Patterson Park Avenue. Her mother, Tracy Barnett, 21, remained in serious but stable condition last night at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Kenneth Moyd, the child's father, told police that he left the house to go to work at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday and that both Ms. Barnett and the child were in good health, said Agent Arlene K. Jenkins, a police spokeswoman.

He told Ms. Barnett that "the landlord was supposed to send somebody by to fix the furnace that morning," Agent Jenkins said.

When Mr. Moyd returned about 6:40 p.m., he found both victims unconscious in an upstairs bedroom. He also noticed that the furnace had apparently been worked on by someone, Agent Jenkins said.

She added that the death has not been ruled a homicide and that no criminal penalties were foreseen.

Mr. Gresser, who as of last year was recorded as owning 771 rental units in the city, could be fined $500 under a civil procedure for ignoring the Feb. 14 order by city inspectors.

The Baltimore landlord and two companies he owns, Inspired Homes and Zel Realty, have been cited in the past for lead-paint problems in their rental properties.

BG&E investigators checked the air of the house after the death Tuesday night, and "the carbon monoxide sent the meter to the end of the scale," said utility spokesman John Metzger.

The reading indicated the carbon monoxide level to be at least 500 parts per million, considered a lethal amount, Mr. Metzger said.

Utility investigators also found several mechanical parts next to the furnace, and a used valve that had been installed, Mr. Metzger said.

It was not known who made the repairs that, according to city codes, must be performed by a licensed gas fitter, Mr. Metzger said.

He would not speculate on how experienced the worker was who did the repair job. But he did say, "It wouldn't have mattered if there was a new valve or not, because the chimney was clogged."

City inspectors have had concerns in the past about unlicensed contractors' doing furnace, plumbing and heating work in homes. Often, the jobs are performed by neighborhood repairmen and odd-jobs specialists who do not have sufficient experience or training, they said.

John Smyth, the owner of Calvert Plumbing and Heating on York Road, said licensed specialists sometimes receive phone calls from unlicensed workers wanting to know how to do a job.

"There are hundreds of people out there doing work they shouldn't be doing," Mr. Smyth said. "In this particular case, it apparently killed somebody."

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