WSP: Carbon monoxide alarms sounded, but Evergreen State students were sent back in

Mar 13, 2024, 2:49 PM | Updated: 4:41 pm

Evergreen State College...

Evergreen State College. (KIRO 7)

(KIRO 7)

Before a student died from carbon monoxide, at Evergreen State College, alarms sounded multiple times, according to findings from the Washington State Patrol (WSP) released Wednesday.

Investigators say the first alarm sounded at 5:41 a.m. on Dec. 11. From there, a resident of Evergreen State College housing called the college dispatch service, which contacted residential maintenance.

Then WSP spokesman Chris Loftis said the students did what they’re supposed to do when hearing an alarm: They left the building.

“They did get out. They did get out. They were sent back in,” he said. “The maintenance department made the mistaken decision that it was an alarm problem and not a carbon monoxide problem.”

But there was a leak.

“A significant carbon monoxide leak occurred due to improper installation of a tankless water heater,” Loftis said.

The water heater had been installed by a contractor just days before.

According to the WSP’s timeline of events, maintenance workers attempted to clean and clear the carbon monoxide devices throughout the morning. They managed to silence the alarm panels twice, only to have them go off again.

Previous coverage: 1 student dead by suspected carbon monoxide poisoning at Evergreen State College

They removed carbon monoxide devices from several bedrooms and the alarms went silent at 10:11 a.m.

The WSP says the alarm company arrived in the early evening to reset the system.

“When they did that,” Loftis said, “they found that the alarms re-sounded again, and they started looking in the windows of the (housing) unit, and unfortunately, they saw the three students who had succumbed to the gas.” By then, it was 8:10 p.m.

Two of the students were hospitalized.

Jonathan Rodriguez — a 21-year-old student from Dupont — died.

College calls the student’s death ‘a devastating loss’

Evergreen State College declined KIRO Newsradio’s request for an interview but called Rodriguez’s death “a devastating loss.”

The college said it is improving training and updating protocols for responding to alarms.

The Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s office said: “We are reviewing all the materials from their investigation to determine if any criminal conduct was involved. Due to the volume of materials received, we expect it will take at least two weeks to complete our review.”

Related story: Airbnb urged to require carbon monoxide devices after 3 die

Loftis said the lack of training and understanding about the alarm system contributed to the tragedy.

“There were processes that failed that young man and his family,” Loftis said. “The reality is, when you hear an alarm, get out, then call the fire department. That’s the process. It’s not a maintenance issue, it’s a fire department issue.”

The WSP report does not indicate the Evergreen State College dispatch service called the fire department until after the students were found in distress.

Loftis says because this case involves a death, the WSP is forwarding its report to the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Heather Bosch is an award-winning anchor and reporter on KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of her stories here. Follow Heather on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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WSP: Carbon monoxide alarms sounded, but Evergreen State students were sent back in