Chicago rapper and songwriter Luke Gawne and his girlfriend, Erica Fumo, say they know firsthand how dangerous exposure to carbon monoxide can be, after a frightening close call at The Waldorf Astoria Chicago last November. The couple says they fell violently ill hours after checking into the 5-star hotel.
“And I remember saying to her ‘my heart feels like it’s beating really hard right now,’ Gawne recalled. “And I’ve never had that happen. I was just really dizzy. Out of it. And just an overwhelming feeling of not feeling right.”
It wasn’t long before Fumo says she too started feeling really sick.
“I got extremely light headed. It was like walking on air and not in a good way. Just very uncoordinated,” Fumo said.
Then, at 3:30am, a shrill noise woke them up.
“It shocked us that the detector on the wall was going off. I thought it was the fire alarm and I walked over and I was like holy crap! That’s the carbon monoxide detector,” Gawne said.
Carbon monoxide, likely from the gas fireplace, triggered the detector in their room, the couple says, and explained why they felt so sick. They went to the front desk to report it.
“I was telling them that in our opinion there was an immediate health risk at the hotel. We are proof,” Gawne said.
As the hotel sent a building engineer to take a look, Luke recorded with his phone.
What that engineer said next, they say, left them stunned:
Building engineer: “It happens every night. I mean it just happens. It’s carbon monoxide buildup. So they say just leave your door cracked open.”
Fumo: “So there was carbon monoxide?”
Building engineer: “Well yeah, I mean, well yeah. But I deal with it every night. It’s definitely normal.”
“We are extremely concerned that this could happen to other people,” Gawne said.” We feel it’s our obligation to speak up.”
Luke and Erica are right to be concerned about the threat of carbon monoxide in hotels.
Two thousand miles away, Kris Hauschildt says her family's nightmare tells that part of the story.
"When we found out they were dead, we were just in shock," Hauschildt told NBC 5 Responds.
Her parents, both in good health, were on vacation when they were found dead in their North Carolina hotel room.
"My dad was actually in the Jacuzzi tub, sitting upright,” Hauschildt said. “My mom was lying on the floor next to the Jacuzzi tub. Dressed in her nightgown."
Hauschildt says because there were no signs of illness the day they both died, investigators were stumped, and insisted the family wait 6 to 8 weeks for toxicology reports.
"We kept asking about carbon monoxide,” Hauschildt recalled. “The investigators didn't test for it. There was nothing we could do to change their mind."
While they waited, another family checked into the same room where her parents died. And another tragedy unfolded:
11 year-old Jeffrey Williams and his mother Jeannie were overcome by carbon monoxide that seeped into the room from the pool water heater one floor below.
Jeannie survived. Jeffrey did not.
To the shock of both grieving families, they learned no carbon monoxide detector was in the room where all three victims died, just 7 weeks apart. And no law that required it.
"There ought to be a federal requirement, that's universal across the country and safeguards everyone traveling," Hauschildt said.
Only 14 states, including California, Michigan and Wisconsin, regulate carbon monoxide detectors in hotels and motels, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Illinois is not one of them.
That number is evidence of a huge and deadly oversight, Hauschildt says, that no agency tracks. She herself has counted 159 deaths since 1967. Here are a list of incidents in Illinois:
Hauschildt's research is available, in full at the following link:
Back at the Waldorf Astoria Chicago, Luke, still feeling very ill, says he had to call the fire department, after the hotel refused. Both sought treatment at nearby hospitals for carbon monoxide exposure.
NBC 5 Responds found other customers online blasting the Waldorf for similar scares, citing carbon monoxide detectors blaring at the hotel.
In a statement, the general manager of the Waldorf Astoria Chicago says:
"Our hotel places a priority on the guest experience. Recently, we have unfortunately experienced intermittent false alarms in a small number of rooms. Mr. Gawne and Ms. Fumo experienced this during their stay, and we apologize unreservedly for their experience. As guest welfare is our first concern, we quickly engaged a third-party specialist to conduct the appropriate tests and can confirm that the air quality in our guestrooms is safe. As we are focused on the guest experience, we are testing factors that may contribute to the false alarms. As someone who walks the halls of the hotel every day, I would have no hesitation in booking my friends or family into any of our rooms.”
Gawne and Fumo say they question the Waldorf Astoria’s investigation. They say the hotel never contacted them or asked for their medical records, even after their lawyer sent the hotel a letter with notice of their experience and concerns.
“We just feel like we’ve been brushed aside. Minimized,” Gawne said. “I’d be lying if I said it’s not a petrifying idea of what could have happened.”