BY AMES ALEXANDER
The couple’s trip began like any other.
Last August, Patricia and David Ivie traveled from their home near Fort Worth to the Texas panhandle for a family matter.
They had four children, nine grandchildren and active lives. Patricia, 58, a longtime equestrian, loved her family and her horses. David, 61, a consultant to the oil industry, was a hunter and a competitive skeet shooter who liked to raise money for abused and neglected children.
They checked into the Best Western in the town of Perryton, a hotel used by many who work in the nearby oil fields. They got their key and settled into room 217.
Within four months, both would be dead. Investigators believe they eventually succumbed to carbon monoxide that leaked from a hotel pool heater that night.
Buck Ivie, the couple’s adult son, had watched his parents suffer for months before they died.
During that time, his family found news accounts of an eerily similar tragedy at another Best Western more than 1,200 miles to the east.
In April of 2013, carbon monoxide leaked from a poorly vented pool heater into room 225 at the Best Western in Boone, N.C. Daryl and Shirley Jenkins, a couple in their 70s, died from their exposure. Less than two months later, inside the same hotel room, the deadly gas claimed another victim – 11-year-old Jeffrey Williams.
Those cases highlight a broader problem:
Carbon monoxide leaks inside U.S. hotels have killed at least eight people and injured or sickened more than 250 others over the past five years, according to an Observer review of published accounts.
No government agency tracks such incidents.
So the daughter of Daryl and Shirley Jenkins spent months compiling her own list.
“It’s crazy how many cases are on there,” Buck Ivie said. “It shouldn’t happen at all.”
‘Hazardous to life’
On the morning of Aug. 24, a hotel housekeeper heard a carbon monoxide alarm in the Ivies’ room, their son said. Hotel employees found Patricia Ivie in bed. Her husband was near the bathroom, face down on the floor. Both were unconscious.
The couple was airlifted to a hospital in Amarillo, where doctors found that carbon monoxide had damaged their brains, kidneys, livers and hearts, Buck Ivie said. For about a week, they were in a coma.
About seven other hotel guests and workers were also treated for carbon monoxide poisoning that day, according to Perryton Fire Chief Paul Dutcher.
The investigators who responded to the hotel found high carbon monoxide levels in a number of second-floor rooms.
“The CO levels were high enough that they were hazardous to life,” Perryton Police Chief Tony Hill told the Observer.
Almost directly below the Ivies’ room, the investigators found something else: a utility room with two pool heaters – and what the local fire chief described as a badly corroded ventilation system.
“I don’t know how they made it that long without having issues,” said Paul Dutcher, Perryton’s fire chief.
In a hotel room down the hallway from the Ivies, there had been signs of trouble. The guests who checked out of that room that morning had taken the battery-powered carbon monoxide detector off the wall and had placed it on a bedside table, along with a note.
“The note stated the detector alarm went off at 03:30 and 04:30,” according to a report prepared by the Perryton Police Department. “The note also stated the battery needed replacing.”
The carbon monoxide detectors inside the rooms weren’t wired to alert the hotel’s front desk, Hill said.
Terrifying last days
David and Patricia Ivie were never again the same.
Patricia Ivie began acting like a child after she woke from her coma, her son said. She could no longer walk or feed herself.
She died on Oct. 18. The cause of death was organ failure resulting from the “toxic effects of carbon monoxide,” her death certificate said. It happened, the death certificate said, because of a “carbon monoxide leak from hotel pipe into hotel room.”
David Ivie – a man who had always loved to laugh – suffered even more during the months before his death, his son said. In a recent letter to Best Western CEO David Kong, Buck Ivie described what the carbon monoxide did to his father:
“He suffered from terrifying hallucinations … (and) spent his final weeks terrified for his own life and the lives of his family … My dad, the man who raised me, my hero, died mentally insane and not being able to control anything in his own mind. Why? All because he stayed in one of your hotels that night.”
David Ivie died on Dec. 22 as a result of “anoxic cerebral injury” – or brain damage due to a lack of oxygen, his death certificate said. The underlying cause: “carbon monoxide exposure.”
Kelly Dalton, a spokeswoman for Best Western Hotels, refused to comment on the Texas incident, saying that company officials are still investigating it.
Following the 2013 deaths in Boone, Best Western required all of its hotels to install and maintain carbon monoxide detectors in every guest room and all areas where fuel-burning equipment operates.
“Best Western also consistently provides hotel operators with information warning about the risks of carbon monoxide exposure, the importance of properly maintaining and venting fuel burning equipment, and the ongoing responsibility of focusing on the health, welfare and safety of their guests,” Dalton wrote in response to questions from the Observer.
‘The danger is known’
After coming across news stories about the deaths at the Best Western in Boone, Buck Ivie began talking with Kris Hauschildt, the daughter of the couple who died there almost five years ago.
She sent him a spreadsheet that she had compiled, with information about more than 35 incidents nationwide in which people were sickened or killed by carbon monoxide leaks inside U.S. hotels over the past five years. In more than a dozen of those cases, pool heaters were the source of the dangerous gas.
In a search of published reports, the Observer confirmed those cases – and found several more.
“It’s been almost five years since my parents died,” Hauschildt said. “I really wanted to think our case meant a big enough difference to prevent someone else’s death. Obviously not enough has been done to prevent it from continuing to happen.”
Jeannie Williams has also combed through Hauschildt’s data. Her 11-year-old son died at the Boone hotel, and she, too, was badly injured by the leaking gas.
“People assume when they are staying at a hotel that all is safe,” said Williams, of Rock Hill. “They just don’t know.”
A spokeswoman for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, whose members include 80 percent of all franchise hotels, said “the safety and security of our guests and employees is paramount.”
The association said it ensures members receive the latest information needed to address carbon monoxide and other safety risks.
“Hotel chains and individual properties have the tools needed to mitigate any potential inadvertent carbon monoxide exposure,” Rosanna Maietta, the association spokeswoman, wrote in an email to the Observer.
After the deaths in Boone, the North Carolina General Assembly increased protections for hotel guests, adopting a law that requires hotels to install carbon monoxide alarms near pool heaters and other fuel-burning equipment.
But most states have no such requirements. North Carolina is one of just 13 states with laws that require hotels to install carbon monoxide detectors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The family members who lost loved ones in North Carolina and Texas say they believe lawmakers and industry officials must do much more to protect the traveling public.
“There’s no excuse for this happening again,” says Charles Monnett, the Charlotte lawyer who sued on behalf of the Jenkins family. “If they made it a priority, it wouldn’t be happening. The danger is known. They need to be doing something.”