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July 24, 2014

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Damon Mallatere, right, stands with attorney David Freedman as he addresses the press following Mallatere’s appearance at the Watauga County Magistrate’s Office Jan 10. Photo by Anna Oakes

Originally published: 2014-01-16 09:08:54
Last modified: 2014-01-16 09:09:40

Man pleads not guilty regarding hotel deaths

Anna Oakes

Damon Mallatere - the man charged with involuntary manslaughter in three carbon monoxide deaths at the Boone Best Western - turned himself in on the charges at the Watauga County Magistrate’s Office Jan 10.

Mallatere, 50, of Blowing Rock, entered a plea of not guilty, posted a bond of $40,000 and was released pending trial, his attorney David Freedman said. An arraignment hearing has been set for Feb. 17.

“It’s a very difficult time for Mr. Mallatere, and he knows regardless of what he’s going through, it can’t compare to what (the victims’ families) have to go through on a daily basis,” Freedman said.

The Watauga County grand jury on Jan. 8 handed down indictments sought by the district attorney’s office for the April 16 deaths of Daryl and Shirley Jenkins, ages 73 and 72, of Longview, Wash., and the June 8 death of 11-year-old Jeffrey Williams of Rock Hill, S.C. The three died after staying in Best Western room 225, where investigators in June detected high concentrations of carbon monoxide.

 Investigators said a pool water heater and faulty exhaust system at the hotel were to blame.
Mallatere was the president of Appalachian Hospitality Management, which managed operations at the Best Western and several other Boone hotels, at the time of the deaths last year.

In addition to the three counts of involuntary manslaughter for the three who died, the grand jury also indicted Mallatere on a charge of assault inflicting bodily injury for the permanent injuries suffered by Williams’ mother, Jeannie, who stayed in the hotel room with her son.

The involuntary manslaughter and assault charges are Class F felonies under North Carolina law, punishable by up to 20 months in prison for someone with no prior convictions.

Freedman said Mallatere has no criminal history, and a search of Watauga County criminal records revealed only traffic violations.

Last week, Mallatere released a statement through another attorney stating he was “extremely disappointed” with the charges and questioning why police and the district attorney did not focus on others involved, including the contractor, Independence Oil LLC, which performed the natural gas conversion of the pool heater and the town of Boone building inspector who signed off on
the conversion.

Assistant District Attorney Britt Springer responded to questions about the charges, saying, “The person who the state feels was criminally responsible for the three deaths has been indicted.”

Springer added that “there are many people who through carelessness or indifference could have stopped this tragedy but did not,” but “the ability to stop a death from occurring because of someone else’s criminal negligence is not a crime in North Carolina.”

“I am bound by what our criminal laws are,” she said.

Freedman said Mallatere has “strong faith in the judicial system.”

“He knows the process needs to play out, and we want people to keep an open mind while the process plays out,” said Freedman. “He feels at the end things will be fine, and the truth will come out.”

Attorneys for Mallatere confirmed that as of Jan. 1, Appalachian Hospitality Management is no longer managing operations at the Best Western, Sleep Inn, Country Inn & Suites, La Quinta and Super 8 hotels in Boone.

For more information and stories, see The Blowing Rocket.

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