Relatives sue over CO deaths at Aspen-area home
DENVER -The combined failures and negligence of contractors, property owners and Pitkin County building inspectors led to the carbon monoxide poisoning deaths of a Denver family of four at a home near Aspen, according to allegations outlined in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Denver County District Court.The 39-page complaint was filed on behalf of the deceased family members’ relatives, who also held a press conference in Denver and issued a news release about the lawsuit.”This tragedy will impact our families for generations,” said plaintiff Dr. Frederick Feuerbach, the father of Caroline Lofgren, 42, who died over the Thanksgiving holidays in 2008 along with her husband, Parker, 39, and their two children, Owen, 10, and Sophie, 8. “The deaths of my daughter, her husband and my grandchildren were absolutely preventable. Caroline, Parker, Owen and Sophie were innocent victims of so many problems and failings by so many people.”Along with Feuerbach, plaintiffs include the mother of Parker Lofgren and grandmother of the two children, Jean Rittenour of Portland, Ore.; and Rockport, Mass., resident Hildy Feuerbach, who is the sister of Caroline Lofgren and the representative of the deceased husband and wife’s estate.Named in the suit are three defendants who were indicted on criminal charges by a Pitkin County grand jury last month: Marlin Brown, owner of Roaring Fork Plumbing & Heating Co., retired city of Aspen building inspector Erik Peltonen, and Brian Pawl, a building inspector for Pitkin County.The suit claims that Pawl and Peltonen inspected the home in the summer of 2005, and signed off on the home’s snowmelt system, which was operated by a Munchkin boiler that leaked the noxious gas, “despite open and obvious violations of the Pitkin County Code and building regulations.”The suit also is critical of Pitkin County for agreeing to pay for the criminal defense of Pawl and Peltonen, noting that the county “fully supported and acquiesced in their actions, even after criminal charges were brought.”Other defendants in the suit include the Pitkin County Community Development Department, the Pitkin County government, Basalt-based Integrity Construction Management Group and its project manager, John Wheeler; Carbondale-based Eagle Air Systems Inc., Basalt-based Proguard Protection Services Inc., Heat Transfer Products Inc. of Massachusetts, and Jonathan Thomas and Black Diamond Development Corp., which owned the house at the time the family died in it.Defendants contacted for this story did not return telephone messages. County Attorney John Ely said he could not comment because he had not reviewed the complaint.
The suit paints a gruesome picture of the deaths of the family, who won a five-night stay at the 10 Popcorn Lane residence, located approximately 3 1/2 miles east of Aspen, at an auction at their children’s school, St. Anne’s Episcopal in Denver. The Lofgren family had split the cost of the winning bid – $6,000 – with another family, who was to meet them the day after Thanksgiving. Following a turkey dinner that Thanksgiving evening, the family went to bed, with the parents and children retreating to two separate rooms. It was a snowy night, and the outdoor sensor, which detected the snow, automatically activated the Munchkin gas-fired boiler to melt the snow on the outside walkways and patio. The Munchkin was located in the mechanical room, underneath the guest suite occupied by the parents, the suit says. When the other family came to the house at approximately 5 p.m. on Nov. 28, 2008, the day after Thanksgiving, they “found the dead bodies of the entire Lofgren family in the parent’s [sic] guest suite above the mechanical room,” the suit says. “The decedents Parker and Caroline Lofgren were found in their nightclothes on the bed. Caroline had hemorrhaged from her mouth or nose. Owen was found on the floor by his father beside a nightstand. Sophie was found on the floor by her mother with her face bloodied. Blood was also found on the bedding of one of the bunk beds in the children’s guest site.”
The suit claims five missteps by contractors, inspectors and the homeowner led to the deaths: • Poisonous carbon monoxide gas escaped from a disconnected PVC elbow joint that linked the Munchkin boiler to the exhaust vent pipe, the suit says. The elbow had not been “properly primed, glued or sealed and was not securely attached, supported or braced in any way.”• A disconnected fresh air intake vent;• A defectively designed boiler;• An improperly installed HVAC system;• No carbon monoxide detector.”The absence, elimination or correction of any one of these conditions may have prevented the deaths of one or more members of the Lofgren family, or substantially reduced the risk of such deaths,” the suit says.
The suit makes eight claims for damages, but does not specify how much money is being sought.Among the claims are: • Negligence under the Premises Liability Act – Brown and his firm, Roaring Fork Plumbing and Heating, were negligent when they improperly installed the Munchkin boiler and the venting system, the suit says. Eagle Air improperly installed the HVAC system and other appliances at the house, the suit alleges. Proguard failed to recommend the installation of a carbon monoxide detector, as required by Pitkin County Code, the filing says. Integrity Construction and Wheeler did not properly oversee the construction of the home and failed to maintain the home. Black Diamond and Thomas did not install a CO detector, among other acts of negligence, the suit says.• Felonious killing – “The actions of defendants Eagle Air, Proguard, Integrity Construction, John H. Wheeler, Black Diamond, and Jonathan M. Thomas in causing the death of each member of the Lofgren family were also reckless by consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that death would occur and, as such, also constituted ‘manslaughter,'” the suit says.• Civil rights claim – Pitkin County and its community development department, along with Pawl and Peltonen, issued building permits and conducted inspections, and in doing so, “recklessly disregarded known or obvious risks such that it was highly probable that death or serious harm would follow …” the suit says. The county, by issuing the Certificate of Occupancy for the home, “demonstrated a reckless, conscious and unreasonable disregard of the consequences,” the suit says.The suit was filed by Denver attorney William J. Hansen, a name partner with McDermott, Hansen & McLaughlin LLP.firstname.lastname@example.org