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Palm Springs hotel guest died of carbon monoxide poisoning, coroner says

An Ohio attorney whose body was found in a Palm Springs hotel room in November died of carbon monoxide poisoning, the Riverside County coroner’s office said Wednesday.

The Palm Springs Police Department has been investigating the death and will present its findings to the Riverside County district attorney's office for possible criminal charges, said Palm Springs Police Lt. Mitch Spike.

Mark Walter Ruf, 48, was found dead on the floor of his room at the Curve Palm Springs Hotel & Resort on Nov. 13. Ruf’s family had notified Palm Springs police after he failed to return from a vacation as scheduled.

Coroner’s officials concluded that Ruf died of “acute carbon monoxide poisoning,” said Sgt. Anthony Townsend of the Riverside County coroner’s office.

Ruf’s relatives allege in a lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, that the hotel’s management failed to properly investigate after another guest was sickened in the same room about two weeks earlier.

That guest told hotel staff members that she vomited and experienced tightness in her chest and an elevated heart rate. The symptoms improved when she opened a door and breathed fresh air, the family members said.

The woman notified hotel staff, but they failed to detect a problem and continued to rent the room to other guests, said Peter Kaufman, an attorney representing Ruf’s family.

“There was a dangerous condition that posed an immediate and grave risk to the health of any customer,” Kaufman said. “It’s remarkable to me that a condition this dangerous could be allowed to persist for not days, but almost two weeks, and take the life of a successful, caring and wonderful man.”

Spike said investigators determined that carbon monoxide was leaking from pool heating equipment into the room in which Ruf died -- Room 276, which was directly above the pool heater. The heating equipment has been removed and there is no longer a threat, Spike said.

[Updated at 5:30 p.m. PDT March 19: In a follow-up interview, Spike said that testing concluded that carbon monoxide was leaking from the pool heating equipment below Ruf's room. It "could have" ended up leaking into Ruf's room, he said.]

"They have not yet determined whether there will be criminal charges filed, but they're not ruling it out," Spike said.

The Curve hotel, 333 E. Palm Canyon Drive, remains open. The hotel’s general manager did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause death if allowed to concentrate in the air.

Ruf had been vacationing in California and stopped for the night at the Curve hotel on Nov. 11, Kaufman said.  He was scheduled to take a flight home to Ohio the next day.

An obituary published on the website legacy.com said Ruf was an outdoors enthusiast who enjoyed hiking, cycling, boating, skiing, golfing and “just being out in the sun.” A graduate of Case Western Reserve University Law School, he ran a private legal practice in Cleveland.

He is survived by his parents, Walter and Patricia, and a niece.

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