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Five Die of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Their New Home

January 16, 1990 GMT

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) _ Carbon monoxide fumes from a furnace killed a woman and four youngsters, including three of her children, who were found dead in their new house, authorities said.

City inspectors had deemed the furnace unsafe in September and ordered it shut off after fumes from it felled at least one person then living in the house, but a city official said it was unclear whether the problem ever was fixed.

The victims moved into the one-story, two-bedroom home a week ago today; unpacked moving boxes were scattered throughout the house when the bodies were found, police Lt. Rich Resling said Monday.

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The victims died Wednesday evening from carbon monoxide poisoning, said El Paso County’s deputy coroner, Michael Stewart. They were identified as Sophia Gerardo, 34; her sons, Daniel Gerardo, 9, Nash Gerardo, 11, and Mario Ortiz, 13; and her nephew, Mark McPeak, 15.

Carbon monoxide instead of carbon dioxide can be produced when a heater fails to burn fuel adequately, Stewart said.

Stewart said the woman may have been aware that something was wrong because she apparently tried to pull herself upright by grabbing a plant stand, which was found toppled next to her.

″It looked like she was trying to get out,″ Stewart said.

The body of McPeak was found in the bathroom, where he probably went after feeling nauseated, Stewart said. The other children were found in bed and probably died in their sleep, he said.

Resling said a neighbor alerted police Sunday after peering into a window and seeing a body. An officer became ill from fumes while examining the house, Resling said.

″In about two minutes, he would have passed out,″ Resling said. ″He was lucky to get out of there.″

City Utilities Department inspectors measured the carbon monoxide level in the house Sunday at 800 parts per million, twice the lethal level.

City spokesman John Henry said that on Sept. 9, a previous occupant of the house was overcome by carbon monoxide and taken to a hospital, and that inspectors that day ″red-tagged″ the furnace as unsafe.

Henry could not say whether the furnace had since been repaired because the city does not perform follow-up inspections.

Former tenant Brenda Hogsett said in an interview published in today’s Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph two people were sickened in the September incident and the building’s 75-year-old owner, Darrell Atkinson, was aware of it. She did not know if the furnace had been fixed.

Atkinson, who was distraught over the deaths, declined to comment, the newspaper said.

Dallas Lopez, a friend of the dead woman, said he also was aware of the past problems with the furnace. ″They had all kinds of city workers and the fire department looking around,″ he said, adding that they later said they fixed the problem.

Resling said police were continuing an investigation.

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