BOONE, NC (WBTV) - The man who was president of a hotel management group when three people died in a Boone Hotel in 2013 had all criminal charges dismissed against him in court Monday.
Damon Mallatere, who was head of Appalachian Hospitality Management, was charged with three counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of assault after investigators put the blame on him for carbon monoxide leaks that killed three people.
It happened in 2013 after a pool water heater was moved from one hotel in Boone across town to the Best Western. The state said it was done without permits and inspections, and that the work was improperly done. That, combined with deteriorating vent pipes and other failed equipment, led to carbon monoxide leaking into a hotel room above the pool.
In April, 2013, Daryl and Shirley Jenkins of Washington state were found unresponsive in the room and declared dead a short time later. Fire officials did not test for carbon monoxide at the time. The state medical examiner's office later determined that CO was the primary cause of death and sent their findings to the local medical examiner.
In a tearful statement to the judge before sentencing, Kris Hauschildt, the Jenkins' daughter, talked about how easily the hotel could have fixed the problem, and that her parents' lives don't have a price.
"The cost to replace a pool heater: $1,384.59. The cost to replace the stainless steel power venter: $449. 99," Hauschildt said.
Prosecutors, however, say the local M.E. did not read the findings right away.
In the meantime, the room was opened back up for visitors and a woman and her son who were staying at the hotel, in the same room, were overcome. The woman survived but her 11-year-old son, Jeffery Williams, died.
"There will never be closure. Jeffrey's the first thing I think about in the morning, and the last thing I think about before going to bed," said Jeannie Williams, the mother of the 11-year-old victim.
District Attorney Seth Banks told the judge Monday it was the result of a combination of errors by several people that added up "To this awful tragedy."
In a plea deal, the charges against Mallatere were dismissed but then levied against the corporation. As president of that corporation, Mallatere entered a guilty plea on all charges on behalf of the company.
The judge sentenced the corporation to 18 months with the time suspended and ordered that the company be dissolved.
Officials say it was more a matter of procedure since a corporation, as an entity on paper, could not serve time behind bars. Mallatere's attorney, David Freedman, said he believes his client should never have been charged as an individual in the first place.
"This was all political because, at the time, a heated race for District Attorney was underway," he said, adding that, "Mr. Mallatere did not commit any criminal acts."
Though the criminal matters involving the deaths are now complete, civil lawsuits remain unresolved. Both families have sued several people and companies including the Management firm, the City, and the people who performed the work on the pool heater.
The Jenkins and Williams families released a statement about Monday's hearing:
"Our families wish to thank District Attorney Seth Banks and the Watauga County District Attorney's office for working so diligently on behalf of Daryl and Shirley Jenkins and Jeffrey and Jeannie Williams to bring resolution to this case."
"This plea agreement brings closure to the criminal phase. However, justice for our families will not be served until all parties are held accountable for their respective roles in the deaths of Daryl, Shirley and Jeffrey, and the permanent injury to Jeannie at the Boone Best Western."
"It is our hope and expectation that our civil action will continue to bring to light the facts of what happened at that hotel so that it is never allowed to happen again."
"We continue to advocate for a federal mandatory requirement of carbon monoxide detectors in every hotel room in the United States. Currently only 12 states require installation of carbon monoxide detectors in hotels and motels under statute."
Hauschildt says she hopes no other families have to go through what the Jenkins and Williams families have experienced.
"We hope that that's the end result that there is a federal requirement for all hotel rooms to have carbon monoxide detectors," Hauschildt said.
No trial date has been set for those proceedings.