Carbon Monoxide Leak Blamed for NY Restaurant Leaving 27 Sick, One Dead

Carbon Monoxide

A carbon monoxide leak is to blame for the incident that left one dead and 27 others injured at a restaurant in Huntington Station, New York on Saturday night. Carbon monoxide was found to be leaking from a faulty flue pipe attached to a water heater. The carbon monoxide leaking from the faulty flue was spread throughout the basement by the ventilation system. The restaurant affected by the leak, Legal Sea Foods, is located within a large-scale mall, The Walt Whitman Shops, with more than 80 stores and located about 35 miles east of New York City. Luckily, only occupants of the affected restaurant along with two other adjourning stores required evacuation.

The manager of the Legal Sea Foods restaurant, Steven Nelson, 55, was found unconscious in the basement of the establishment after an initial call was placed to police around 6 p.m. EST Saturday to report a woman who had fallen and sustained a head injury in the basement of the Legal Sea Foods restaurant. When rescue services arrived, the crew also began to feel light-headed and nauseated and quickly determined a carbon monoxide leak was responsible. Evacuation procedures were immediately put into action and rescue workers cleared the building, during which time they located an unresponsive Nelson in the basement. Both the injured woman, who turned out to be the restaurant’s assistant manager, Maggie Smith, and Nelson were transported to Huntington Hospital where Steven Nelson was pronounced dead from an apparent heart attack. While Maggie Smith was hospitalized overnight and expected to be released soon. According to a source who works for the restaurant, Smith had gone down to the basement in search of Nelson after he disappeared and was overcome herself by the fumes, at which time she sustained the head injury. As a precautionary measure, rescue crews also evacuated the Panera and Cheesecake Factory outlets that adjourned Legal Sea Foods. Additionally, National Grid shut off the gas line that Panera and Legal Sea Foods share. The rest of The Walt Whitman Shops mall remained open.

It should be noted that the carbon monoxide blamed for leaving 27 sick and one dead at an NY restaurant is a colorless, odorless gas that is produced by the incomplete combustion of petroleum products, such as oil and natural gas. In New York State, commercial buildings are not required to have carbon monoxide detectors. They are only required in buildings in which people reside and sleep.

The restaurant was issued a $2,000 citation for faulty equipment and both Legal Sea Foods and Panera remain closed until deemed safe by inspectors. The restaurant is subjected to annual inspections and passed its inspection in March 2013. Its next annual inspection was scheduled for next month. In the aftermath of this incident, Legal Sea Foods C.E.O, Roger Berkowitz, issued a statement about “how the tragedy highlighted the inadequacy of safety codes required for commercial spaces,” and he was taking it upon himself to ensure the safety of his staff and patrons by making certain all of his establishments not only meet but exceed all safety standards.

The rest of the 27 people who were sickened by a carbon monoxide leak that left one dead at an NY restaurant consisted of restaurant workers and emergency personnel. None of them had life-threatening injuries, and all but a few were treated and released from the five area hospitals to which they were transported. When Berkowitz was asked about the loss of manager Steven Nelson, he responded, “It’s like losing a family member.” Berkowitz and the company issued deepest condolences to Nelson’s family and added that grief counselors will be provided for the restaurant’s staff, friends, and family members.

By Leigh Haugh

The New York Times
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
NY Daily News