County officials investigate Pikesville carbon monoxide deaths

2 construction workers died in leak; 11 people were sent hospital as precaution

December 13, 2010|By Nick Madigan, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County officials Monday were investigating the circumstances surrounding a carbon-monoxide leak in a Pikesville house that claimed the lives of two construction workers who lived there.

The two-story house in the 4100 block of Colby Road was not equipped with a carbon-monoxide detector, according to investigators, who withheld the names of the two dead men until relatives could be notified.

Media reports identified the men as Enael Lemus and Nelvin Salguero.

Eight other people who lived in the two-story house, as well as three police officers, were taken to the emergency room at the University of Maryland Medical Center after discovery of the leak Sunday morning. At least five people were treated in the hyperbaric chamber at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Cpl. Michael Hill, a spokesman for the Baltimore County Police Department, said he did not know whether any of the people taken in for observation or treatment had suffered carbon monoxide poisoning, and that they had received medical attention as a precaution. The civilians were identified as Josabec Arevalo Coreas, 40; Santos D. Martinez, 31; Ubein Garcia Lemus, 20; Sugo Lemus, 27; Jose Orellas Sorto, 29; Navis Adely Arevalo, 35; Josue Arevalo, 22; and Susi Martinez, 35. A spokeswoman for the hospital did not reply to inquiries about the incident.

The three affected police officers — two of them with five years each on the force and an 11-year veteran, all assigned to the Pikesville barracks — were released from the hospital before noon Sunday after a checkup determined they had no ill effects from the carbon-monoxide contamination. The department did not identify them.

In Baltimore, housing officials zeroed in on a cause for a carbon-monoxide leak on Friday that prompted the evacuation of 36 children and a dozen adults from the Pleasant View Gardens Child Care Center on East Fayette Street. Cheron Porter, a spokeswoman for the Department of Housing and Community Development, said inspectors blamed the leak on three holes they found in a heating unit on the building's roof.

The child-care facility remained closed Monday while repairs began on the heating system, which was shut down, Porter said. The center is to reopen Tuesday using portable heaters "that we've been assured are safe," she said. "That's all we care about — that the kids are safe."

In the Pikesville incident, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Fire Department said that since the two-story, 1,560 square-foot home — assessed in July as being worth $227,570 — appeared to be privately owned, and not a rental property, county inspectors were under no legal obligation to search for a cause of the leak itself. The responsibility falls on the homeowner, who is listed in property records as Santos D. Martinez, one of the people listed as being affected by the leak.

However, said Elise Armacost, the spokeswoman, county officials are looking into whether some of the people living in the house were renting space there illegally, which could mean not only sanctions for its owner but might place it under a county law that says all rental properties must be equipped with carbon-monoxide detectors. In the meantime, she said, officials have posted a notice on the house's door ordering everyone to stay out until a licensed plumber has determined the cause of the leak and fixed it.

Police were summoned to the house at 8:40 a.m. Sunday "for an unknown trouble call," said Hill, the police spokesman. When the officers arrived, "they were alerted by one of the victims who lived inside the residence that two people were dead" in the basement, he said. Residents told the officers that "they had experienced possible problems with their furnace," Hill said.

Firefighters and medics from the Baltimore County Fire Department's Pikesville station were the first units on the scene and called for additional support. Commanders subsequently declared it a "mass casualty incident." A test of the house revealed carbon-monoxide levels of 400 part per million — readings above 9 ppm are considered hazardous.

Chief Kevin Cartwright, a spokesman for the Baltimore Fire Department, said Monday that it is normal to receive "a few" more carbon-monoxide calls as the weather gets colder and residents use their heating systems. "But I'm not aware," he said, "that we have received an increased number of calls at this point in the season."

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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