A Tooele man died in his home Wednesday night of carbon monoxide poisoning in what police say appears to have been an accident.
Robert Woods, 54, was working on a vehicle in a closed garage attached to his southeast Tooele home when his nephew, who lives with him, left to run some errands, said Capt. Paul Wimmer of the Tooele City Police Department.
When the nephew returned a few hours later, he could smell exhaust in the home and found Woods unconscious inside, said Wimmer.
Medical crews were called at about 9:40 p.m. but declared Woods dead at the scene, Wimmer said. Woods’ death appears to have been accidental, he added.
“It just kind of looked like he stepped in the house to take a break but he left the vehicle running,” Wimmer said. “The door between the living quarters and the garage was cracked open a few inches so the exhaust had pretty easy access to the home. When the fire department got there, they checked [the carbon monoxide levels] and they were fairly high.”
Bucky Whitehouse, assistant fire chief with the Tooele City Fire Department, said when firefighters first arrived at the scene their detectors registered 750 parts per million, and that was after the doors had been open as Woods’ nephew and medical personnel had come in.
“It’s difficult for us to know if it had diluted by then, or if that was the highest [level],” Whitehouse said. “We would suspect that it probably had [diluted] with all those doors open, so we don’t know what the max level was.”
Mild exposure to carbon monoxide is defined as a level between 35 and 200 parts per million, which can be dangerous if a person is exposed for more than two hours. A level between 200 and 800 parts per million constitutes a medium exposure, which can cause symptoms in less than an hour. Extreme exposure is defined as any level above 800 parts per million, which can be dangerous in minutes.
Whitehouse said the rate at which carbon monoxide dissipates depends on the ventilation of the area, and whether forceful dissipation methods, such as fans, are employed.
Because of the nature of carbon monoxide — the molecule bonds to hemoglobin in blood instead of oxygen, thereby starving it of the necessary element — it can take time for the carbon monoxide to dissipate from the body.
Children, the elderly and people with heart or respiratory problems are more susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide poisoning’s effects can range from headaches, lightheadedness and nausea to death.