Maroon Bells campers’ carbon monoxide levels way above lethal
The Aspen Times
The carbon monoxide levels in the bodies of a father and son found dead in their tent in the Maroon Bells Wilderness last month were 20 percent above lethal levels, Pitkin County’s coroner said Thursday.
The body of Jeffrey Beard, 41, had a carbon monoxide saturation level of 60 percent, while 13-year-old Cameron Beard’s body had a saturation level of 61 percent, according to autopsy reports.
“You can start dying above 40 percent,” said Dr. Steve Ayers, Pitkin County coroner.
Jeffrey Beard’s 12-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son also were along on the camping trip and survived. Contrary to initial reports, all four family members were sleeping in the same tent, according to a Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office report.
The daughter told investigators the family had been hiking a portion of the Four Pass Loop trail when a lightning and thunderstorm forced them to hide under a rock for safety, the sheriff’s report states. They were all wet afterward and all got inside one tent after they made camp.
They placed all their wet clothing in a separate tent to dry, the report states.
Jeffrey Beard then brought their camping stove into the tent, heated water, filled water bottles with the warm water and they all crawled into their sleeping bags, the report states. The daughter said her father laid down on one side of the tent, then her, then Cameron Beard, then the 7-year-old boy.
The daughter woke up during the night because she was cold and discovered her father and brother were unresponsive, according to the sheriff’s office report. The daughter said she could thought she could smell gas and felt nauseous, while her younger brother was hallucinating “snakes wiggling in the tent,” the report states.
The daughter lay awake all night preparing a list of things in her head she needed to take with her when she and her brother left in the morning. At daybreak, the two left the tent and walked until they found other campers, who brought the siblings into their tent and warmed them up, the report states. The other campers later walked the two out to safety.
Ayers said the circumstances of the deaths are odd.
“Having someone in between two dead people who survives is unusual,” Ayers said. “I’m sure the other two (survivors) were poisoned, which is the possible reason the boy was hallucinating.”
Ayers said the difference could have been as simple as the survivors not breathing as deeply or sleeping completely inside a sleeping bag. He said that people who are exposed to carbon monoxide and live can have neurological problems later and usually are advised to follow up with a neurologist.
Both Jeffrey Beard and Cameron Beard had burns from the camp stove, which later tipped over and went out, on their bodies, which initially led investigators to declare lightning as a preliminary cause of death.