Carbon monoxide bill is presented to panel

Published March 28, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Two days after Christmas, Richard Lueders and his son, Thomas, woke up in their Key West hotel room and began to plan their day.

"We wanted to do a little father and son bonding," Richard Lueders said.

They never got the chance. Richard went to take a shower, and last remembers seeing his 26-year-old son reading on the bed in the room at the Doubletree Grand Key Resort. Shortly after, as Richard showered, both were overcome by carbon monoxide fumes from an adjoining boiler room.

Thomas Lueders died.

On Tuesday, Richard Lueders and Thomas' mother, Beth Thomas, pleaded with a Senate panel to require carbon monoxide detectors in Florida hotels.

A few states - including New York, Texas and Illinois - have similar laws in place. Some big hotel chains, including Marriott and La Quinta, have installed detectors on their own.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee unanimously approved the bill (SB 1840) requiring that carbon monoxide detectors be placed in certain hotel and motel areas where there may be a carbon monoxide hazard.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg, has two more committee hearings before it can go to the full Senate for a vote.

A version of the bill (HB 1303) is sponsored in the House by Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West.

Originally, the measure would have required detectors in individual hotel rooms. But the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association estimated the cost to install a detector at about $25 per room and with 400,000 hotel rooms in the state, the impact on the industry would have been about $10-million.

But the bill was changed to lessen the impact, now requiring detectors only in areas where carbon monoxide is produced, such as a boiler room.

Now, the association is on record being in favor of the bill. It's also supported by the Florida Justice Association, a trial lawyers' group, and the senior lobby AARP, as well as consumer groups and firefighters.

Lueders said the colorless, odorless gas first impairs a victim's ability to recognize danger. He noted that as a well-educated, healthy marathon runner, he never thought he was particularly vulnerable to much - but he was rendered powerless by the carbon monoxide floating out of the boiler room next door.

"Ten feet away my son was dying, and there was nothing I could do," Lueders said. "I would have done anything, anything to trade places with my son. I could not run back into the 'burning' building - it doesn't give you that chance."

The Doubletree Grand Key was closed after Thomas Lueders' death and only reopened earlier this month.

Thomas Lueders' family has sued the hotel.