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The Florida Agency that Regulates Hotels Admits It Failed to Properly
 Inspect the Doubletree Grand Key Resort, Key West, Florida

By Cammy Clark, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Jan. 27, 2007 - KEY WEST -- The state agency that regulates hotels admitted Friday that it failed to properly inspect the Doubletree Grand Key Resort, where a guest died in December from what officials believe was carbon monoxide poisoning coming from the adjoining boiler room.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation conducted 11 lodging inspections at the 216-room Doubletree since its opening in July 2000. None of the reports documented the lack of a posted boiler inspection sticker.

It's not the job of the agency to conduct boiler inspections -- that is done by the state Fire Marshal's office or insurance companies. But it is the agency's job to make sure hotels are in compliance with state regulations.

"We missed it," said the state agency's new Secretary, Holly Benson, during a news conference Friday in Key West to distribute its internal investigation report.

"But the message we want to deliver to residents and visitors to Key West is that they can be assured those inspections are now taking place," Benson said. "We are revising our practices to make sure employees are trained properly on this because it is too important not to get it right."

The boilers of the Doubletree's size are required to be inspected every two years by either the state fire marshal or the hotel's insurance company. The state has no record of any inspection.

State fire marshals say the hotel did unpermited repairs to the boiler room's vent following damage caused by Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and those repairs may have caused the carbon monoxide.

Documents obtained from the state Fire Marshal's investigation stated that soot was found in the boiler room and plywood was blocking two combustion air openings that vent the room, according to the Inspector General's report.

A family from Ohio said they notified the hotel of their carbon monoxide poisoning in the same room a week before Lueders' death.

The city of Key West was responsible for issuing the resort's certificate of occupancy, which requires that all state inspections and codes are met. The city's building department has no supporting documents on file to show the boilers were inspected at the time the certificate of occupancy was issued.

If the lack of an inspection had been discovered, Benson said her agency would have notified the state fire marshal's office for enforcement.

Benson also acknowledged the agency failed to perform several state-mandated biannual lodging inspections at the Doubletree. Only one was conducted in 2003 and none in 2004 or 2005.

Benson said the role her agency's failures played in the death of 26-year-old Thomas Lueders is unclear until all other state and local agencies investigations are complete.

The Key West police and fire departments and the state Fire Marshal's Office are wrapping up their individual investigations and in about a week will send their final reports to the State Attorney's Office, which will decide whether to file criminal charges.

Michaela Arnabat, who conducted the two lodging inspections of the Doubletree in 2006, stated in the internal investigation report that she was told by a hotel engineer that the boilers did not require certification because they were low pressure and low temperature.

Doubletree spokeswoman Jeanne Sullivan said the hotel has not seen the report and does not want to comment until it does.

Arnabat, who is still with the agency but no longer conducting inspections, stated she was not familiar with the boilers used at the Doubletree. She said she had received three days of training about hotels, which included inspecting boilers.

Benson said there "clearly are gaps in our education" and that training is being "beefed up" and the inspection reports are being revamped.

The Doubletree has remained closed since Lueders' death Dec. 27. Richard Lueders, who also suffered carbon monoxide poisoning while in the same room as his son, has a court order to prevent the Doubletree from doing any work on the boiler room until Feb. 5 to allow his attorneys to examine it.

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Miami Herald

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