One Year Later, Efforts Underway To Avert Future Tragedy

OCEAN CITY – Wednesday, June 27 evoked somber feelings for many this week as people remembered the carbon monoxide tragedy that occurred in Ocean City just one year ago.

On June 27, 2006, Patrick Boughter, 40, and his daughter Kelly, 10, perished in their hotel room at the Days Inn on the Boardwalk at 22nd Street after suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. Mother and wife Yvonne Boughter and 7-year-old daughter Morgan, survived after being rushed to the Atlantic General Hospital (AGH) and later to Shock Trauma in Baltimore.

According to Yvonne, she and her family began exhibiting symptoms of nausea, headache, and dizziness around 1 am that morning. They attributed the symptoms to potential food poisoning.

At the time, the Boughters were occupying room 121. Nearby, in rooms 125 and 127 another family was exhibiting similar symptoms. According to authorities, 911 first received calls from the rooms at around 9:30. During that time, both the Boughters and the other family reported their symptoms. Emergency services came to rooms 125 and 127, not room 121, and agreed that it looked like a case of food poisoning. That family was then taken to AGH and treated for food poisoning.

Meanwhile, the Boughters laid in room 121, unaware that paramedics were only a few doors down and unaware of the gravity of their illnesses.

Emergency services did not hear from the Boughters again until shortly after 1 p.m. when they got a call from Yvonne. Paramedics arrived on the scene to find Patrick and Kelly dead and Yvonne and Morgan gravely ill.

Shortly after 2 p.m., Ocean City Emergency Services, including the police department, the volunteer fire company, paramedics and representatives of the Worcester County Health Department responded en masse to the Days Inn for what was initially characterized as a potential propane gas leak. What they quickly learned however was that a carbon monoxide leak had caused the death of Patrick and Kelly Boughter and had left others severely ill. They later discovered that the leak resulted from a water heater in the basement with a disconnected pipe.

The hotel was immediately evacuated upon the discovery, and all those who had reported illness were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning. The incident was later ruled as an accident.

The tragic incident brought several issues to the attention of the town. According to city officials, Ocean City is always, first and foremost, concerned with the safety of its people. The devastation of a carbon monoxide poisoning alerted many as to the potential dangers of the gas.

Carbon monoxide is considered a silent killer because it is odorless and colorless, which makes it virtually undetectable. The symptoms can range from headaches and dizziness to nausea and chest pains, making it difficult to diagnose, as was seen in the misdiagnosis of the family in rooms 125 and 127.

Concern as to the initial response was also raised. Yvonne reportedly called 911 that morning, around the same time that the family in rooms 125 and 127 called. The paramedics reached rooms 125 and 127, but at that time never made contact with the Boughters.

Also, the people in those adjacent rooms were taken to AGH, but not identified as having carbon monoxide poisoning. As a result, an evacuation of the building did not occur until the Boughters were found in their room several hours later.

As a result of the incidents, emergency services decided to strengthen their communication strategies. They have since taken steps to eliminate the “communication breakdowns” that occurred on that day. For example, the exact location of an individual must be relayed twice to avoid any confusion of their whereabouts.

Perhaps the biggest advancement since the tragedy one year ago has been the carbon monoxide detector laws that have been passed. The tragedy reinforced growing concerns over lack of detectors, spurring officials to pass the law this past winter.

The law states that carbon monoxide detectors are now required in new single-family homes, duplexes and townhouses where fuel-burning equipment, such as fireplaces or furnaces that burn solid, liquid or gaseous fuel, are installed or operated. Detectors are also required in enclosed parking areas located within the dwelling unit. All detectors should be interconnected and powered through a primary and secondary source.

The legislation also demands that at least one carbon monoxide detector be installed on every level of the dwelling unit and in the immediate vicinity to, and be audible in all sleeping areas located within the unit.

The requirements for new and existing multi-family dwellings, such as a hotel or motel, are similar to new single-family dwellings outlined in the legislation.

Under the proposal, carbon monoxide detectors are also required to sound a different alarm than smoke detectors in the same dwelling. In hotels and motels, a sign indicating that carbon monoxide detectors are available for the deaf and hard of hearing are to be displayed at the front desk.

The legislation is outlined in fire marshal brochures as well as on their website.

The ordinance, which became effective in February, allows the existing multi-family dwellings 24 months to install detectors.

The law was met with a great deal of support from the the Mayor and Council, as they approved it unanimously. Everyone agreed it was a safety and prevention item that was a necessity to the well-being of residents and visitors alike.

According to Fire Marshall Sam Villani, there has been good response since the passing of the ordinance this winter.

He said that although it’s hard to make a complete assessment until the 24-month grace period is up, he feels and hopes that everyone is complying.

As for the passing of the law, Villani said he has heard no objections or complaints about the new requirements.

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