Tragedy Strikes in a Midland Neighborhood

By: Sarah Snyder
NewsWest 9

MIDLAND - An early morning tragedy in the Tall City left one mentally handicapped woman dead and five others ill. The suspected culprit: carbon monoxide poisoning. It happened a little after midnight Tuesday at an assisted living house. Now fire officials are investigating and they're urging homeowners to take some necessary precautions.

"I had just gone to bed and I heard the police on their speakers out loud and all I heard was Carbon Monoxide poisoning," Denise Steward, who lives next door to "Rock House," said.

A tragic morning for the residents of an assisted living house on Trevino Street in North Midland. Fire officials believe carbon monoxide poisoning claimed the life of 53-year-old Betty Contreras, sickening five others who have been treated and released.

"They cause no problems," Neighbor Jim Osborne, said. "They're just people who live there. We take Christmas cookies over to them occasionally and they wave when we go by. Just a bunch of friendly guys."

"I was concerned," Stewart said. "You can't smell it, you don't know where it is but if it gets into the air it will be gone. But that's scary it's just right next door to us."

The "Rock House" homes in Midland offer assisted living to people dealing with a mental handicap. In a statement, the President of "Rock House" said a worker went in for a late night shift and found all six people inside seriously ill. The five others were taken to Midland Memorial Hospital with carbon monoxide-like symptoms of nausea and vomiting. Investigators said this home was in compliance with state safety regulations.

"Assisted living facilities fall under strict state guidelines, but the state guidelines didn't require to have a carbon monoxide detector," Midland Asst. Fire Marshal, David Hickman, said.

Fire officials are urging people to take a few precautions.

"Anything you have that's gas-fired or open flame, we recommend you have a carbon monoxide detector in your house," Hickman said.

They also want to remind homeowners to make sure exhaust ducts are clear over appliances so that the harmful gases won't invade your house.

"We urge people to take precaution, to maintain their appliances, service their appliances regularly by someone who is licensed to do that," Hickman said.

Fire officials are waiting on the autopsy results out of Tarrant County to determine whether the cause of death was in fact carbon monoxide poisoning. They believe a gas heater may be the source. Those other five adults have been treated and released from Midland Memorial Hospital.