3 in Essex die from apparent gas leak

Carbon monoxide detected in family's townhouse

Woman in critical condition

July 19, 2005|By Laura Barnhardt and Danny Jacobs | Laura Barnhardt and Danny Jacobs,SUN STAFF

Ebony Wiley was already sobbing when she saw the yellow tape around her family's Essex townhouse.

The 16-year-old girl, who has been staying with a cousin this summer, was told that her father and two stepsisters had died, apparently of carbon monoxide poisoning, and that her stepmother was in critical condition. As she rushed toward the front door yesterday, relatives followed to console her as a police officer kept them from going inside.

A few feet away, neighbors shook their heads, opened their windows and tried to smell for signs of more trouble in the Cove Village neighborhood.

"It could've been any of us," said Chantel Young, 36, a Baltimore County school bus driver who lives in the townhouse complex. "My heart goes out to the family."

Norman Sylvester Wiley, 48, who worked demolishing houses, and his two stepdaughters, Sheriesa Bernay King, 15, and Ja-Na Liett Jones, 14, were confirmed dead late yesterday by police. Wiley's wife of about four years, Adrian Wiley, 35, survived the accident, police and relatives said.

She was being treated in a hyperbaric chamber at Maryland Shock Trauma Center and was listed in fair condition late yesterday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Police said autopsies would be performed on the victims. But investigators found that a vent pipe leading from a water heater was misaligned, which could have caused the release of carbon monoxide into the family's home on High Seas Court, police said. The family had an air conditioner running and all windows and doors shut, which would have prevented fresh air from entering the house, police said.

"We just can't believe it," said Jacqueline Granville, Norman Wiley's sister. "He was an outgoing person. He loved to be around people."

Neighbors described the family, which had lived in the community about five years, as quiet and nice, with both parents working hard. Norman Wiley sometimes came out into the court after work and played kickball or softball with the younger children, they said.

He also had an 18-year-old stepson, Garrison, and a son, Jerome, 32, Granville said.

Marie Jackson, 48, who works for the Baltimore County Department of Health and lives on the same street as the family, was among the more than a half-dozen residents who said yesterday they sometimes smell gas in the neighborhood. "I don't want to be asleep and not wake up the next morning," she said.

Chris Davis, an official with Sawyer Realty Holdings, which owns and manages the 299-unit complex, said, "We're not aware of any maintenance concerns."

The company issued a written statement that called yesterday's deaths "tragic" and said it is cooperating fully with the investigation. "Our hearts and prayers go out to the family," the statement read.

The College Park-based company has owned Cove Village, a community of townhouses built in the early 1970s, since 2003, said Mary L. Harvey, director of the Baltimore County's Office of Community Conservation.

Adrian Wiley called 911 about 12:15 p.m. yesterday saying she was ill and that three family members were unconscious in their home, said Vinson, the police spokesman.

Firefighters' carbon monoxide detectors went off when the entered the townhouse. The reading was 160 parts per million, said Elise Armacost, a Fire Department spokeswoman.

Carbon monoxide detectors usually go off when the level of carbon monoxide is 30 parts per million, she said. Short-term exposure in a house with a carbon monoxide level of 160 parts per million wouldn't normally be high enough to cause serious harm. But exposure to the gas - even at low levels - over an extended period can be lethal, she said.

Twenty-five townhouses on High Seas Court were evacuated yesterday and 10 people inside them were taken to the Police Athletic League Center in Essex, about six blocks away, said Officer Shawn Vinson, a county police spokesman. They were allowed back into the homes several hours later.

Most carbon monoxide accidents occur during the colder months when people are using heating appliances and fireplaces, and after storms, when people bring generators indoors even though they shouldn't, Armacost said.

Carbon monoxide - which is odorless, tasteless and invisible - is produced by incomplete combustion of fuels. It can build up when an appliance isn't working, a chimney is clogged or an area isn't vented properly, according to fire officials.

Last month, five members of a Randallstown family and a friend were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning after using a gas-powered generator in their home. And in March, carbon monoxide poisoning was blamed for the deaths of a Northeast Baltimore couple.

Yesterday, residents of High Seas Court gathered in front of their homes, some wiping away tears, others looking toward officials checking pipes and gas and electric meters around the residence.

Gloria Snyder, 52, who has lived at 8 High Seas Court for nine years, held back tears in front of her house as spoke of the Wileys. "They were like family," she said.

Her granddaughter Samantha Schroyer rushed from her sister's house in Glen Burnie when she heard the news.

Samantha, 15, said she and Sheriesa King were best friends who had just finished their first year at Chesapeake High School. She said the last time she saw her friend was on the last day of school, but the two were planning on seeing each other during the summer. They often hung out and slept over each other's houses.

"She was intelligent, smart and caring," Samantha said. "She was a nice person who has always been there for me."

Sun staff writer Joe Nawrozki contributed to this article.

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