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Carbon monoxide suspected in deaths of 2 Fla. girls

By Scott Travis
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Jill Brondolo always worried about whether her 11-year-old daughter Kaitlyn was wearing a seat belt or a bicycle helmet, but never thought about the dangers of carbon monoxide, the grieving mother said today.

Hours before, a deputy had arrived at her home west of Boca Raton to tell her that Kaitlyn and her best friend, Amber Wilson, 11, had died from exposure to the deadly poison during a sleepover at Amber’s house about a mile away.

“I just can’t believe it. I’m totally shocked that this would have happened,” Brondolo said.

Brondolo last heard from her daughter about 8 p.m. Saturday, when she called to say Amber’s mom, Loretta Wilson, was going to take the girls shopping. Kaitlyn had stayed over at Amber’s house, on the 1100 block of Island Lake Lane, at least eight times before, the mother said.

Loretta Wilson, 45, called 911 about 9 a.m. today, saying Amber would not wake up, said Teri Barbera, spokeswoman for the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. Wilson was overcome by the fumes and taken to West Boca Medical Center, but she was expected to survive, Barbera said.

Wilson told investigators that she and the girls had returned home from a trip to Wal-Mart at about 10:30 p.m. Saturday, parked the Ford Escape in the garage, closed the garage door behind them and went to bed. Wilson said she could not shut off the vehicle’s engine, according to Barbera.

Brondolo said today she wasn’t aware that her daughter had been out shopping so late, saying her normal bedtime was 9:30 p.m. She said she was astonished that Wilson may have left a car running in the garage.

“I know Loretta is a single mom, but she has neighbors she could have asked for help,” Brondolo said. “She could have called my husband.”

Fire-rescue workers found Loretta Wilson, along with the family dog, outside and in front of the house. The family dog was taken into custody by Animal Care and Control and is recovering.

A 9-year-old boy also lives at the house but was sleeping at a friend’s place, Barbera said.

When deputies arrived the vehicle was not running, the keys were on the counter and the tank was half full, Barbera said. Large amounts of carbon monoxide were detected in the house, she said.

The vehicle was taken to the Sheriff Office’s impoundment lot for further investigation.

“All indications were [Loretta Wilson] was planning a business trip. Her clothes had all been laid out,” Barbera said. “There’s no reason to believe any foul play. It appears to be a tragic accident.”

The two girls were sixth-graders at Loggers Run Middle School.

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking. These were fine students and lovely girls,” Principal Carol Blacharski said.

Counselors will be available to talk to students, and the school will put together a bulletin board where students can write their goodbyes, she said. Teachers will also talk to students about carbon monoxide, she said.

Kaitlyn was a straight A student who had become a golf enthusiast, taking lessons for four years and competing in junior tournaments, her mother said. Her dream was to get a college golf scholarship and join the Ladies Professional Golf Association.

Amber, also a straight A student, was “a sweetheart. I loved her like my own daughter,” Brondolo said.

Amber’s relatives said they were shocked and devastated. Her father, Kenneth Wilson, lives in Massachusetts.

Loretta Wilson’s sister, Kristina Lance, visited her in the hospital Sunday, their mother said.

“We really don’t know much. My daughter’s still in the hospital. No one is allowed in yet. We don’t know what’s going on,” said Margaret Lance, of Ellwood City, Pa.

Carbon monoxide deaths are rare, said Tim O’Connor, a spokesman for the Palm Beach County Health Department. Other than suicides, the last one he recalls was during Hurricane Wilma. He said these deaths are more common during and after hurricanes, when people have power outages and use generators, or bring grills inside.

“The good part is it’s rare, but it’s something people really need to be aware of,” he said.

He said families may want to consider buying carbon monoxide monitors, similar to smoke alarms.

In Florida between 2000 and 2006, there were 198 deaths as a result of non-fire-related carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the latest data available from the Florida Department of Health’s website.

Carbon monoxide prevents the body from delivering oxygen to the cells leading to the brain and the heart, said Richard Weisman, director of the Florida Poison Center and an associate dean at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

He was surprised at the idea that someone may have left a car running, given the publicity that carbon monoxide poisoning gets, especially during hurricanes.

“It’s an amazing story if it turns out this person was just totally naive to the knowledge of leaving a car running in the garage and thinking that’s not going to be a problem,” he said.

Copyright 2009 Sentinel Communications Co.