Five young men celebrating a birthday likely died due to carbon monoxide (CO) from a car they left running in a garage under their South Florida motel room, investigators have concluded. A maid called authorities Monday after seeing people unconscious through a window.
In a 911 call, the maid described a strong smell of gasoline and said she was concerned because the five young men appeared unconscious. The maid told the emergency dispatcher in Spanish that she opened the door and called out “hello” and got no response.
A car used by the group was found running in a closed garage underneath the room. Friends told The Miami Herald the car had needed a jump-start earlier and could have been left running to keep the battery charged. A door to a staircase up to the room had been left open, and high levels of carbon monoxide were found inside.
This sad accident is dramatic reminder to never idle the car in a garage — even if the garage door to the outside is open. Fumes can build up very quickly in the garage and living area of your home. You can’t see or smell carbon monoxide, but at high levels it can kill a person in minutes. Carbon monoxide is produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned. If appliances that burn fuel are maintained and used properly, the amount of CO produced is usually not hazardous. However, if appliances are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous levels of CO can result. Hundreds of people die accidentally every year from CO poisoning caused by malfunctioning or improperly used fuel-burning appliances. Even more die from CO produced by idling cars. Fetuses, infants, elderly people, and people with anemia or with a history of heart or respiratory disease can be especially susceptible.
One should know the symptoms of CO poisoning. At moderate levels, you or your family can get severe headaches, become dizzy, mentally confused, nauseated, or faint. You can even die if these levels persist for a long time. Low levels can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea, and mild headaches, and may have longer term effects on your health. Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning, or other illnesses, you may not think that CO poisoning could be the cause.