Medical examiner resigns after state failed to alert authorities about hotel poison threat

Medical examiner resigns after state failed to alert authorities about hotel poison threat


by Fred Clasen-Kelly, Gavin Off and Ames Alexander & staff

The Charlotte Observer

Posted on June 14, 2013 at 3:48 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 11:14 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A spokesperson for the N.C. Dept of Health and Human Services confirms that Dr. Brent Hall, Medical Examiner for Watauga County, resigned Friday afternoon.

Click here to view the toxicology report.

The N.C. medical examiner’s office learned that carbon monoxide might have killed an elderly woman in a Boone hotel two weeks ago, but failed to alert local authorities about the threat until after an 11-year-old boy died in the same room.

A report obtained by the Observer shows the N.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner knew on June 1 that a blood test showed carbon monoxide poisoning may have killed Shirley Mae Jenkins, 72, in April.

Jeffrey Williams of Rock Hill died June 8 while staying in room No. 225 at the Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza. Williams also died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Experts from other states said they warn police and fire officials immediately after toxicology tests show someone could have died from carbon monoxide to prevent future deaths.

Jenkins and her husband, Daryl Dean Jenkins, 73, of Longview, Wash. died on April 16, both from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Sometimes called “the silent killer,” carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that inhibits the blood’s ability to carry oxygen and can cause severe illness or death. It’s emitted by cars and other fuel-burning machinery.

Toxicology tests for carbon monoxide in corpses can take less than 20 minutes, experts said.
Boone Police Sgt. Shane Robbins said Friday that the department renewed its request for the Jenkinses toxicology reports on May 29.

But Boone police did not receive the lab results for the couple until June 10, after Williams died, Robbins said.

Asked why the delay occurred, Robbins referred a reporter to the medical examiner’s office.
Boone Fire Chief Jimmy Isaacs has previously said the state medical examiner’s office did not ask firefighters to conduct carbon monoxide tests in the hotel after the Jenkinses died.

The Observer previously reported that no state medical examiner visited the hotel room after the Jenkinses died there – even though experts say inspecting the death scene is a crucial step in determining how a person died.

A toxicology report from the state medical examiner’s office in Raleigh dated June 1 says the saturation of carbon monoxide in Shirley Jenkins’ blood was greater than 60 percent, the documents say.

Anything over 50 percent is typically fatal, experts say.

The toxicology report for Daryl Jenkins was not completed until June 9. It also showed carbon monoxide blood saturation greater than 60 percent, documents show.

On Friday, Dr. Ruth Winecker, the agency’s chief toxicologist, referred questions to state spokesman Ricky Diaz.

Diaz could not be reached for comment.

Darrell Williams, the uncle of Jeffrey Williams, said he didn’t know about the delayed response from the medical examiner’s office.

“Why wouldn’t they respond to them immediately and let them know, ‘Hey, we think this is what happened, and there is a possible huge problem. We need to have that room not rented to anyone,’” he said.

“It doesn’t cost any money to pick up a phone and call. At the very least, that should have been done.”

Williams, 48, of Rock Hill, said the family has been in contact with an attorney and a team of engineers representing the family were investigating the hotel Friday.