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Carbon monoxide blamed in Palm Springs death of Ohio attorney

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An Ohio attorney whose body was found in a Palm Springs hotel room in November died from carbon monoxide poisoning, authorities said Wednesday.

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.

Palm Springs police Lt. Mitch Spike said investigators believe that carbon monoxide may have leaked into the room from an "improperly vented pool heater" housed below Ruf's room.

"Carbon monoxide was leaking out of there," Spike said of the pool heater. "It could have ended up leaking into that guest room."

Police have been investigating the death and will present their findings to the Riverside County district attorney's office for possible criminal charges, Spike said.

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

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 alleged in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court that the hotel's management failed to properly investigate after several previous guests were sickened in the same room in the weeks before Ruf's death.

The guests notified hotel staff, but the hotel 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 prosecutors must determine whether the hotel's misconduct was enough to support a criminal prosecution. A detective is attempting to interview other guests who may have become sick in the room during earlier stays, he said.

"If it's negligence, it's most likely going to be civil," Spike said. "It would be up to the district attorney if there was sufficient grounds for criminal charges."

The heating equipment has been removed and there is no longer a threat, Spike said.

The Curve hotel, at 333 E. Palm Canyon Drive, remains open. Officials with the hotel declined to comment.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause death if allowed to concentrate in the air. Hotel carbon monoxide deaths are rare, but not unprecedented.

Last year, three people were killed and a fourth person seriously injured after carbon monoxide leaked from a corroded exhaust pipe into a guest room at a Best Western hotel in Boone, N.C.

A grand jury indicted the president of a company that managed the hotel on involuntary manslaughter charges. The case is pending.

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 but never left the hotel.

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.

stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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