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Key West Resort Where a Guest Died of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Had Been Operating
 Without Required Certificate of Occupancy
By Cammy Clark, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Jan. 11, 2007 - KEY WEST -- The Doubletree Grand Key Resort, the hotel where a guest died recently from carbon monoxide poisoning, had been operating without a required certificate of occupancy since shortly after it opened in 2000, according to Key West city records.

Operating without the certificate is a violation of state and city regulations, city officials said.

"It's frightening news," said Matthew Helmerich, spokesman for the Monroe County state attorney's office. "It's troubling that people were hurt and killed because they weren't in code compliance."

Since the Dec. 27 death of 26-year-old Thomas Lueders in room 416, the hotel's management has been rocked by disclosures of failures to obtain required permits and inspections. The hotel has been shuttered indefinitely while state investigators try to determine where the gas came from. The main suspect: a nearby boiler room.

State fire marshal Charles Toledo, who is heading the investigation of Lueders' death as well as the carbon monoxide poisoning of several other guests at the 216-room Doubletree, has said his office could find no records the hotel had undergone mandatory boiler inspections. He also said repairs to the hotel's boiler room were done without required city permits.

There has been no official explanation for the cause of the carbon monoxide that also led to the emergency treatment of several other guests, including an Iowa family treated for monoxide poisoning the week before Lueder's death. Key West building official John Woodson said investigators are focusing on work done to the boiler's venting system in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

"We won't know for sure until the final report is in,"Woodson said. "But anytime you modify air intake, it needs to be done by a professional and should have a mechanical engineer. That wasn't done."

Bobby Grizzle, who reviews plans for Key West's building department, said repairs to a boiler ventilation need to be very precise because a mistake as small as an eighth of an inch can lead to a dangerous release of carbon monoxide.

"I don't know if [the hotel] did anything intentionally wrong," Woodson said. 'We don't know if the work was done by an outside contractor. It could have simply been a maintenance man that saw something needed to be fixed and they said: 'Go fix it.' "

The boiler room, which houses two of the three boilers that heat water for the entire facility, is adjacent to room 416.

Tony Dzianott, vice president of the Iowa-based Heartland Hotel Corp., which manages the Doubletree, did not return calls seeking comment. Doubletree spokeswoman Karen Thurman did not respond to an e-mail asking about the lack of a certificate of occupancy. The Doubletree's general manager, Steve Robbins, has been put on paid leave during the investigation.

The hotel held its grand opening in July 2000 with a 30-day temporary certificate of occupancy. A permanent certificate is given when all inspections required by the state and the city have been met and the building is safe to inhabit.

Carolyn Walker, the licensing official for the city's building department, said the hotel had completed most of its final-occupancy inspections when it opened. The city issued a temporary certificate because the hotel had not provided or completed documentation for its swimming pool, landscaping and a portion of the first floor.

The temporary certificate expired Aug. 24, 2000, and the hotel never got a permanent certificate, according to city records.

Walker said the burden of making sure that a building has a certificate of occupancy is on the facility or the developer, not on the city.

The state Department of Business and Professional Regulation is looking into how it could have performed annual lodging inspections without discovering that the boilers had not been inspected every two years as required.

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Miami Herald

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