Inspections at the Mission Valley Inn found violations in 83 of the 190 rooms inspected, including faulty heaters similar to the one that killed a visiting volleyball player and left his roommate in critical condition, city officials announced Friday.
In a letter to Hank Hoxie, a vice president of Atlas Hotels, which owns the inn, the city’s Building Inspection Department also listed minor violations such as inoperative smoke alarms and defective thermostats.
The hotel corrected the violations listed in 47 rooms by making minor repairs right away, department spokesman Jack Brandais said.
“They’re minor in that they are easy to take care of; they’re major in that they can kill somebody,” said senior housing inspector Paul Elias.
But, in 36 of the rooms, inspectors found the more serious problem of malfunctioning heaters and ordered those rooms closed until repairs are made.
If the rooms are found to be occupied before the heaters are repaired, the department will seek civil penalties, Brandais said.
Cory Louis Korosi, 21, and Henry Kim Wong, 20, two members of the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology’s men’s volleyball team, were overcome by fumes from a malfunctioning natural gas heater in their Mission Valley Inn room Tuesday. An inspection of the room’s heater revealed it was clogged with dirt and soot.
By the time hotel staff was able to enter the bolted room, Korosi had died and Wong was unconscious from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Wong’s condition was upgraded Friday from critical to serious.
“Henry is not by any stretch of the imagination out of the woods,” said Patrick D. Lyden, a UC San Diego Medical Center neurologist who specializes in strokes and is a consultant in Wong’s care. “We know that he will never be normal.”
Lyden said it is very difficult to predict Wong’s recovery but said his age and good physical condition are in his favor.
The victims’ team canceled its plans to play four exhibition games in the area and flew home Friday.
When moving from the Mission Valley Inn to another hotel after the gas poisoning, coach William Gow said one of the first things he did was turn off the room’s heater.
“We have not been contacted by the (Mission Valley) hotel at this date,” Gow said. “No one from Atlas has contacted the team.”
Experts from the Fire Department, the building inspection department and the San Diego Regional Poison Information Center said carbon monoxide poisoning from faulty heaters increases every winter.
“It’s very much weather related,” said Steven Turchen, an information specialist at the poison information center. “The first cold snap of the year will lead to a large number of cases as people fire up their heaters for the first time of the season,” he said.
“When the heaters aren’t used, foreign material can accumulate in the vent and can lead to improper exhausting,” Turchen said. “If the carbon monoxide is not vented, it accumulates in the room and you have a poisoning. Carbon monoxide is the leading cause of death by poisoning.”
Hoxie, the motel chain vice president, was unavailable for comment Friday. In a press release issued Jan. 2, however--before the city completed its inspection that found numerous violations--he said, “Our technical staff immediately conducted an inspection of the heating units at the Mission Valley Inn, and they have determined that these units are working properly and safely.”
Although hotels are checked only when complaints are made, a city councilwoman suggested an investigation to determine ways to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
“Homeowners, renters, landlords, hoteliers and all businesses must fully understand the dangers of potential carbon monoxide poisoning to their families, guests, tenants, and clients,” Councilwoman Linda Bernhardt said Thursday. “I am asking for a Public Services and Safety (Committee) hearing to determine what measures we as a city can take to ensure these types of accidents from happening again.”
Wes Pratt, chairman of the public services committee, said he will work with the Building Inspection Department and the hotel association to determine if the problem is widespread, and if so, how to eliminate it.
“It’s tragically been brought to our attention,” he said. “I’d like to see how the Hotel-Motel Assn. could assure the city and the public that there are hotels and motels that are not only beautiful, but safe.”