A woman whose family got sick after staying at the Best Western in Boone last April says the grand jury did the right thing by handing down indictments against the hotel executive who’s facing charges in connection with three deaths related to carbon monoxide poisoning at the hotel.
Serene Solinski says she warned the hotel staff that something was wrong when people started getting sick during a pool party she threw at the hotel for her daughter’s thirteenth birthday. Solinski says, “The next thing I knew another friend got sick and is puking and then another friend got sick and is puking, and they just fell like flies.”
"We couldn’t move," said Solinski’s daughter, Levi Rawl. “ Our head was pounding, and we didn’t’ know what was going on.”
Solinski called parents telling them the party was over.
The girls were supposed to have a slumber party and because Solinski couldn’t get in touch with one parent, she and her daughters ended up staying all night at the hotel feeling even worse.
“Really people told me that if we didn’t open the window, we would probably be in a coma or dead right now," Mariyah Rawl said.
They didn’t know that just a few nights before a couple died in the room below theirs. Investigators say carbon monoxide leaked into the rooms from the hotel’s pool heater.
“I believe that because of corners cut and misinformation people died," she said.
Solinski says she told employees at the hotel about her family’s mysterious illness and even complained to the corporate office, but she says nothing was done.
At the Watauga County Courthouse Wednesday, a grand jury indicted the head of the hotel, Damon Mallatere on involuntary manslaughter charges.
“I hope that it’s serious," Solinski said. "I don’t like to think that people are used to make examples, but to lay precedence is very, very important in this situation, so that other people can’t be hurt.”
Paul Culpepper, attorney for Mallatere, released a statement, which reads, “Damon Mallatere is disappointed the District Attorney has decided to press criminal charges against him in light of the facts of this matter. Appalachian Hospitality Management Inc. employees did swap out a pool heater from The Sleep Inn to the Best Western in November of 2011. However, within 3 months AHM entered into a contract with Independence Oil and LP/Gas, Inc. to convert the pool heater, and other gas powered appliances from propane to natural gas. The contract was entered into between AHM and Independence Oil on February 15, 2012.”
The statement goes on to say, “The written contract required Independence Oil to pull all required town permits to convert the appliances, replace each appliance that could not be converted with new equipment that was equipped for natural gas and make sure all appliances and equipment were in proper working order prior to the conversion. The contract specifically provided Independence Oil would not proceed with the conversion until the equipment was in good working order. Independence Oil was recommended by Frontier Natural Gas, and Independence Oil converted the pool heater at the Best Western even though the manufacturer has a warning in the owner’s manual saying it should not be converted. A permit was issued by the Town of Boone, and it was allegedly inspected by the Town of Boone to make sure the conversion was performed properly.”
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