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No Charges in DoubleTree Grand Key Resort Guest Death:  Hotels's Action - and Inactions -
Did not Meet the Standards of Gross Negligence
 
By Kyle Teal, Florida Keys Keynoter, MarathonMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 5, 2007--Despite numerous blunders by DoubleTree Grand Key Resort staff that proved fatal for 26-year-old Thomas Lueders, Monroe County State Attorney Mark Kohl's office on Friday said the resort's actions cannot be considered criminal. Lueders, of Washington, D.C., died from carbon monoxide fumes Dec. 27. His father, Richard, was in the same room, No. 416, but was hospitalized and fully recovered in a day, according to a report from the state Fire Marshal's Office.

The two were discovered by Grand Key General Manager Steve Robbins, who attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Thomas Lueders. Robbins later resigned.

Lueders' death spawned multiple lawsuits from other Grand Key customers who stayed on the fourth floor, where the boiler room is located. That room was found to be the source of the carbon monoxide that seeped into Room 416 and killed Lueders while he was reading in bed. The city pulled its certificate of occupancy and the 216-room resort was closed from Dec. 29 to March 1.

An investigative summary released by the State Attorney's Office is a compilation of reports from investigations conducted by the state Fire Marshal's Office and the Key West Police Department.

The findings:

-- State fire marshal "inspectors found no maintenance or inspection logs for the domestic water supply boilers. Inspectors also reported the boilers have never been inspected by state officials, as required by law."

-- "The vents to the door of the boiler room had been covered with plywood and sealed with silicon, which prevented fresh air from entering the boiler room."

-- The document also says the boiler room's exhaust pipe was altered, and "should be straight, at a certain height, and allow air to enter from 360 degrees. The exhaust pipe in place contained an elbow" and prevented proper exhaust, according to the report.

-- The fire marshal's report also explained the wall between the guest room and boiler room was improperly sealed.

Assistant State Attorney Val Winter described the incident as a "terrible tragedy," but said the resort's action - and inactions - did not meet the standards of "conscious intent to harm" or "gross and flagrant negligence."

Faulty repairs on the boiler room performed by resort staff would not be sufficient to bring the case before a grand jury according to Chief Assistant State Attorney Jeff Overby.

Prior to Lueders' death, Nathan, Jody and David Smith of Iowa stayed at the resort Dec. 21, and were later hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning at Lower Keys Medical Center. Winter said the Key West Fire Department concluded their carbon monoxide poisoning was a result of a trip the family took to the Dry Tortugas. The vessel the family took to the island, the Fast Cat II, had engine problems, causing the family's sickness, according to the fire marshal's report. After a police investigator met with the owner of the Fast Cat II, the investigator found no correlation between the family's poisoning and the engine complication, according to the police report. State Attorney's Office spokesman Matthew Helmerich said the engine problems created a reasonable doubt, and greatly limited the ability of investigators to prove the Smiths were poisoned at the hotel.

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Copyright (c) 2007, Florida Keys Keynoter, Marathon

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