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The City of Key West Shuts 210-room Doubletree Grand Resort;
Unpermitted Work Possible Cause for Deadly Gas

By Alyson Crean, Florida Keys Keynoter, MarathonMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Dec. 30, 2006 - -The city of Key West on Friday pulled the operating licenses for the Doubletree Grand Resort following the Wednesday death of a guest by carbon monoxide poisoning.

City Manager Julio Avael said the hotel's certificate of occupancy and occupational license were pulled due to early findings that the fourth floor was tainted with the odorless but deadly gas. A state investigator said it could be due to unpermitted repairs and alterations to the building.

Thomas Lueders, 25, of Washington, D.C., died Wednesday. His father Richard Lueders was airlifted out of the Keys and treated in a Fort Myers hyperbaric chamber. He was released Thursday.

"The medical examiner's preliminary report released [Friday] confirmed that carbon monoxide contributed to the death of the 25-year-old guest," Avael said. Officials believe the fumes emanated from a boiler room next to the victim's fourth-floor room.

Charles Toledo, a detective with the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations in the state Fire Marshal's Office, said it's too early in the investigation to determine whether others fell ill from the fumes. But many say others fell ill a full week before Wednesday's death and were treated at Lower Keys Medical Center's emergency room.

"The others have just come to light," he said, adding that the investigation is far from over. "It's a mammoth job. It's 210 guests plus prior guests and a large number of employees."

Toledo said it's unclear whether hotel management had been notified by Lower Keys Medical Center when the other possible carbon monoxide victims were treated a good week before Lueders died.

"The hotel is represented by its corporation and council," he said, "and sooner or later, they will have to sit down with us and discuss this boy's death."

"We are fully cooperating with the fire authorities, as this incident is still under investigation," Grand Key spokeswoman Karen Thurman said in a prepared statement. "Our primary concern is for the safety and security of our guests and team members.... We hope to have further information available after all investigations are completed."

Toledo encouraged any employees or former guests to seek medical help if they're experiencing flu-like symptoms, then to call the Key West Police Department.

Avael said the Grand Key will be out of commission for at least 30 days. "It could very well take 90 days before we would consider reinstating them," he said. Monroe County Health Department Director Susana May says she's waiting for instructions from the state Department of Health.

"We have the authority to investigate from an epidemiological point of view," she said, "and we have the authority to request records from the hospital. At this time, though, I am not privy to an patient information." May said no one had reported the incidents to the local Health Department.

The shutdown of the 216-room hotel comes during one of the busiest weeks of the season. Melissa Kendrick, outgoing president of the Key West Chamber of Commerce, says her organization has not had time to consider the possible repercussions of the tragedy. "What we've been doing is assisting the Grand Key staff in helping to find other accommodations for their guests," she said.

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Copyright (c) 2006, Florida Keys Keynoter, Marathon

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