Furnace Malfunction Blamed For Weekend Carbon Monoxide Poisonings

St. Paul, Minn. — Authorities said Monday that a malfunctioning furnace was to blame for the carbon monoxide poisonings at a home near Bemidji over the weekend.

Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp said a utility company inspector found that the propane-gas furnace had malfunctioned, letting out the deadly, odorless gas into the home as four people slept. The home had no working carbon monoxide detector.

Hodapp said 50-year-old Coleen Jennings was dead when rescue workers and sheriff’s deputies arrived Saturday morning at the home in Frohn Township, which is located eight miles east of Bemidji.

Three other people who were in the home — 57-year-old Vincent Beyl, 24-year-old Emma Jennings and 30-year-old Christopher Crew — were taken to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis for treatment. Hodapp said Beyl has been released. Jennings was in satisfactory condition and Crew was in serious condition Monday morning, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

In addition, Coleen Jennings’ son and three sheriff’s deputies were treated at a Bemidji hospital for symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and released.

Hodapp said the 911 call came from 20-year-old Gary Jennings, who arrived home to find his family unconscious. His mother was in the bathroom, his sister and her boyfriend were sleeping upstairs, and Beyl, his mother’s boyfriend, was sprawled out at the foot of the stairs in the basement, Hodapp said.

“The victim was deceased already, obviously, and the rest of them were in severe medical distress,” he said, adding that investigators believe the poisonings were accidental.

Hodapp said autopsy results for Coleen Jennings are pending.

The carbon monoxide poisonings were the first in recent years in Beltrami County, Hodapp said. He recommended that residents have their furnaces and gas water heaters checked regularly and install carbon monoxide detectors. He also said people should be aware of the symptoms.

“If you start to feel nauseated or feel headaches coming on, that’s something that people don’t necessarily think of — that they’re being poisoned by carbon monoxide,” he said.


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