Alisjha Smith took her two younger siblings to an indoor pool at Quality Inn and Suites on the morning of Saturday, April 1.
Several children had stayed at the Niles, Michigan, hotel overnight to attend a birthday party, reports WSBT, and as Smith explained, the children went to the pool that morning before they had to check out.
Smith told ABC 57 that she left the children to head home and get ready for work. Just minutes later, her younger brother called their mother, who was upstairs at the hotel:
“… I took them to the pool they were playing laughing. … My brother called my mom crying, talking about he felt dizzy and that somebody needed to come down there because [our sister] and the rest of her friends were making weird noises.”
As WNDU reports, a staff member then walked by a window of the hotel and noticed six children laying unconscious on the pool deck. The employee immediately opened the door and called 911.
When first responders arrived, they found the carbon monoxide levels in the pool area to be 16 times higher than the normal limit.
The children, ages 12-14, were evacuated and sent to the hospital. Sadly, 13-year-old Bryan Douglas Watts died on the way.
A seventh child, a young girl, was found unresponsive and not breathing in a first-floor hotel room at the time as well. She had reportedly just returned from the pool area.
In total, 15 people were sent to the hospital, including first responders who didn’t have their air packs with them and nine children, reports ABC News. The entire hotel was evacuated and remains closed until further notice. The fifteen victims were taken to Memorial Hospital in South Bend or Lakeland Hospital in Niles, according to Captain Wise.
Niles FD says Quality Inn shutdown for likely a day or two til inspections can insure it is safe for guests. Pix show abandoned hotel rooms pic.twitter.com/L35sKMwRh6
— Diane Daniels (@danielsWSBT) April 1, 2017
Niles City Fire Captain Don Wise explained that after getting to the children, time was of the essence for the first responders:
“All the responders took a little more risk, but we had to get those kids out and into fresh air for their best chance of survival.”
According to ABC News, Wise confirmed that the carbon monoxide buildup resulted from a faulty ventilation of the pool’s heater system. He told reporters that the levels of CO were extremely dangerous:
“At those levels, they don’t have much time before they’re going to go unresponsive.”
This isn’t the first time a faulty heating system has caused a lethal release of carbon monoxide. Just recently, a couple nearly succumbed to CO poisoning when their tankless hot water heater froze. Thankfully, they were alerted to the danger by their cat and escaped in time.
A guest staying at the Quality Inn and Suites told NBC News that when he walked past the pool, he had smelled a “noticeable odor” but didn’t think much of it. Then he heard the first responders:
“I saw that EMS, you know, working on people just outside of the pool … and I saw one young lady just lying flat on her back motionless, foam coming out of her mouth.”
Choice Hotels called the terrifying ordeal an “isolated incident.” In a statement, the company said:
“There was a report of an incident at the Quality Inn at 1265 S 11th St in Niles, MI.
This is an isolated incident, and the hotel is working closely with local officials to manage the situation. The hotel is an independently owned and operated franchise property. Our highest priority is always the safety and well-being of our guests.”
According to Captain Wise, the hotel had been reportedly under new management for four to six months. He was unaware of any major inspection issues in the past. WSBT reports that as of Saturday, the general manager has not made a statement.
There were reportedly no carbon monoxide detectors in the pool area to detect the flow of the deadly gas:
A mechanical engineer responded to the scene and determined the cause of the carbon monoxide was a malfunction of the pool heater’s ventilation system.
“Our inspector did confirm it was the pool heater. The ventilation system was not proper. There were some issues with it and that’s what caused the buildup of carbon monoxide in the pool area,” Wise said.