Terence McNally, chief fire marshal for the town of Huntington, said the malfunctioning pipe had allowed the buildup of the deadly gas in the basement of the Legal Sea Foods restaurant at the Walt Whitman Mall in Huntington Station, 40 miles east of New York City. A Suffolk County Police Department spokeswoman said arson and homicide detectives were still examining the leak on Sunday, according to a Reuters report. Police did not confirm that the water heater flue was the source of the leak, but the restaurant’s heating system was being inspected.
Police arrived at the restaurant around 6 p.m. on Saturday, responding to a report that a worker had passed out and fallen down a flight of stairs. Officers found 55-year-old restaurant manager, Steven Nelson, unconscious in the basement, according to Reuters. Nelson died of cardiac arrest as he was being taken to Huntington Hospital, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Police evacuated the restaurant, and two other restaurants in the same strip, a Panera Bread and a Cheesecake Factory. Twenty-seven people, most of them restaurant workers, but also four ambulance personnel and three police officers, were taken to five area hospitals with non-life-threatening symptoms, police said. Legal Sea Foods remained closed on Sunday as did Panera Bread, but the Cheesecake Factory was open for business on Sunday, according to Reuters.
Carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas, can cause sudden illness or death when it builds up in an enclosed space, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Carbon monoxide is found in the combustion fumes produced by car engines, gas ranges, or heating systems. People and animals can be poisoned by breathing carbon monoxide fumes. Headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion, are among the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the CDC web site. If a CO detector alarm sounds or if carbon monoxide buildup is suspected, leave the building immediately and call 911, the CDC advises.