7 injured in house

7 November, 1989

7 injured in house

Carbon monoxide fumes filled “unfit” home

By John P. McAlpin
Staff Writer

Rescue workers dragged five men out of a Witherspoon Street boarding home Sunday afternoon that Princeton Borough health officials had declared unlit and ordered closed last month.

Seven men were still living at 120 Witherspoon St. for at least two weeks after inspectors tagged property owner Benjamin Kahn with more than two dozen health code violations following a pair of October inspections.

All seven residents were poisoned by carbon monoxide fumes that spread through The rickety frame house Saturday night after a gas; heater was reconnected to a blocked chimney, officials said.

Investigators are being hampered in several areas by the inability of the Asian victims to speak English officials said. Borough police were alerted by an unknown caller at 12:11 p.m. Sunday, Chief Michael Carnevale said.

One of the boarding home resident: wandered to the intersection of Spring and Witherspoon streets, flagged a stranger,and asked him to call police on a public telephone, Chief Carnevale said.

“He could not speak English very well. This other party called in,” the chief said.

Officials said there was no telephone inside the house.

Borough police and members from the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad and companies from Lawrence and East Windsor townships were on the scene within minutes, Fire Chief Mark Freda said.

Once inside the house, police notified the gas company and began to pull the five unconscious residents out of the house. Another Resident was able to leave under his own power.

All seven residents were taken to the Medical Center at Princeton and then flown to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, according to hospital officials.

Investigators still do not know the names of the residents, three of whom remained in fair condition Monday night after four had been released.

Mr. Kahn leased the building to Francis Sung, the owner of the North China Restaurant on Witherspoon Street, who in turn rented space in the house to his employees, officials said.

Mr. Kahn is scheduled to appear in Municipal Court later this month for allowing people to stay in the house after he was told they had to leave, according to Princeton health officer Patrick Hanson.

The inspector wrote “as clear as day” on the report that “the dwelling should not be occupied.” until the detailed violations were corrected Mr. Hanson said.

Many of the violations included poor flooring in many rooms, no ceilings in a number of areas, exposed wires, asbestos in the basement, many-broken windows and no smoke detectors, Mr. Hanson said.

Mr. Kahn refused to comment-when asked for a response Monday afternoon.

A sign posted at Mr. Sung’s restaurant said it would “be closed for a few days.”

Public Service Electric and Gas, was called Shortly before 6 p.m. Saturday and asked to service the heater at the house spokesman Neil Brown said.

The unknown caller was told crews would be at the scene within 16 hours because it was not an emergency situation. Mr.Brown said.

When gas company repairmen arrived at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, no one answered the door or responded to repeated calls by the dispatcher to a telephone number that had been Ift , the night before. Mr. Brown said.

Borough fire officials are trying to identify who originally Called the gas company and whose telephone number had been left. Mr. Freda said.

A plumber had been irs the basement of the house for a few hours around noon, working on a sewer pipe, according to Mr. Freda.

He noticed a 3-inch flame coming from in front of the heater and promptly disconnected the unit and thermostat, the fire chief said.

During the night, someone reconnected the heater. which was hooked to a blocked chimney, Mr. Brown said.

Once the heater was running. the carbon monoxide simply circulated in the house instead of flowing up and out through the-chimney, he explained.

Soot collected throughout the house, blackening areas around the electrical outlets and baseboards there the gas had seeped through, Mr. Freda said.

Investigators are still trying to determine if —, as reported at the scene the residents had told Mr. Sung of the problem with the heater fumes as early as last Wednesday, officials said.

Any charges of overcrowding in the three-bedroom house must be put on hold until investigators can interview the residents and explore their relationship, Mr. Hanson said.

“We really have no way of being able to pursue that right now.” Mr. Hanson said.

No one is allowed in the house until the heater is repaired,he said

“We asked that the house be not occupied until the heating system is completely repaired and certified by PSE&G that the system is operational,” Mr. Hanson said.

For now, boroUgh police are not pursuing any criminal investigations,’ the chief said.

“We have notified the proper agencies with the borough. We have not, in this stage, of our investigation, uncovered any criminal activity,” Chief Carnevale said.

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