Autopsies confirm carbon monoxide caused 3 deaths in Essex townhouse

Investigators had found problem with rental home's water heater


News from around the Baltimore region

July 20, 2005|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

An Essex man and his two teenage stepdaughters found dead in their townhouse Monday died from accidental carbon monoxide intoxication, a state medical examiner concluded yesterday.

Autopsies were performed on the family members after Baltimore County investigators found that a vent pipe leading from a water heater was misaligned, which, police say, may have caused the release of carbon monoxide into the rental townhouse on High Seas Court in the Cove Village community.

Adrian Wiley, 35, called 911 about noon Monday to report feeling ill and that three of her family members were unconscious. She was listed in serious but stable condition at Maryland Shock Trauma Center yesterday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Her husband, Norman Wiley, 48, and daughters Sheriesa Bernay King, 15, a junior at Chesapeake High School, and Ja-Na Liett Jones, 14, a freshman at Chesapeake High School, were dead when police and firefighters arrived at the home.

The deaths have devastated relatives, neighbors and friends and have prompted public safety officials to issue warnings about how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

"Could it happen to you? Yes," said Elise Armacost, a fire department spokeswoman. "Everyone needs to make a point of making sure all of their appliances are properly ventilated and maintained."

"Carbon monoxide leaks are a threat in every home," she 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 appliance isn't vented properly, according to fire officials.

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.

The county's hazardous material squads have responded to four serious carbon monoxide leaks this year, she said.

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.

Although they are not mandated, fire officials recommend that all residents have carbon monoxide detectors and that they replace them every three years, said Battalion Chief Michael Robinson.

He said a carbon monoxide detector saved his family several years ago when a furnace pipe in his house disconnected. "Had I not had a detector, it could've been catastrophic," Robinson said.

Safety officials also recommend that residents have their appliances, heating systems and fireplaces checked each year.

After receiving the call Monday, fire officials checked five units on each side of the house where members of the family died and found low levels of carbon monoxide in the neighboring homes, but no signs of trouble with appliances, Armacost said. Regular inspections of appliances and heating and ventilation systems are the responsibility of property owners, she said.

Chris Davis, an official with Sawyer Realty Holdings, which owns and manages the 299-unit Cove Village complex, said the company is performing a unit-by-unit inspection of heating and air-conditioning units and hot water heaters, which should be complete by today.

Although some Cove Village residents spoke about frequently smelling gas in the area and having maintenance problems, Davis said yesterday he was not aware of any delay or other issues with making repairs in the townhouses.

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