Conflicting Reporting of Rancho Pescadero CO Fatalities

Reports of CO being ruled out in Rancho Pescadero deaths of two Americans appear premature, especially considering both EMT’s also got sick and CO alarms were apparently disabled.

By Rebecca Martin

When two United States citizens were discovered deceased in their Hotel Rancho Pescadero room on June 13, 2023, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the impressions of first responders to the scene would be accurately reported. The couple, who were reported to be unresponsive at the scene, appeared at first glance to have succumbed to a toxic substance. For our previous blog, click here.The NY Post reported days after the incident on June 17 that a gas leak had been ruled out immediately at the scene.

While to us, conducting a forensic evaluation to rule in or rule out carbon monoxide poisoning is second nature, it is remarkable how often CO isn’t considered or is ruled out because of failure to seriously consider the possibility.

CO Ambient Air Measurement

The first problem in identifying CO is that responding EMT’s don’t have the CO measuring device with them, or never turn it on.

The second problem is to assume that if there is no CO at the time emergency or utility personnel arrive, that there wasn’t at the time of the poisoning. Often windows and doors are opened before the ambient CO measurement is taken. Smaller spaces with windows that open, can be aired out very quickly.

COHb Measurement, Even Postmortem

The other even more common problem is that the blood levels of those who got poisoned are not checked for CO. The compound that would show up is carboxyhemoglobin, COHb. Even in those who die from the poisoning, COHb can be found in their blood postmortem. But again, the inquiry has to be undertaken. Unless all of these steps were taken, statements that CO had been ruled out are meaningless.

Paramedic Eric Abundis was reported as telling Telemundo, a Spanish-language broadcaster, that upon arrival there was a gas leak. Upon examining the area, the paramedics concluded there was no gas leak. While we have no information on which first responders were called to the scene on June 13, it is typical in the United States in the event of a concern for a potential gas leak or carbon monoxide incident that the fire department conduct an investigation of the scene.

While the NY Post reported that a gas leak had been ruled out, the LA Times had already reported that workers at the Hyatt-owned resort, had told them that managers had ignored a possible gas leak for months and disabled carbon monoxide detectors to stop their alarms from disturbing guests.*qq4g6h*_gcl_au*NDk2OTY1MjY1LjE2ODczNzczMzI.

The couple had been discovered by the housekeeper. The shower had been left running and there was no answer from the couple. Original reports had said that the couple had died in their sleep. The timeline did not support that. Paramedics had arrived qt 9 pm and it was thought the couple had been deceased for 10 -11 hours at that time, which would put the time of death sometime in the late morning of June 13.  The body of Abby Lutz was found upon entry to the room and the body of John Heathco was discovered on the shower floor, indicating that the couple had been in the process of beginning their day. Although paramedics originally responded to a report of two unconscious guests, the couple was deceased upon their arrival, according to the LA Times.

Care for What if No CO?

In fact, it was subsequently reported that the two paramedics who responded to the scene themselves became ill and were concerned for their lives at the scene. The siblings, Fernando Valencia Sotelo and Grisel Valencia Sotelo, said they “were overcome” as they attended the couple in their hotel room. Fernando Valencia Sotelo stated “We went out of the room as soon as possible … I was afraid for my partner because my first thought in my mind was ‘are we going to die?’”

They are reported to be receiving medical care at a private hospital in Mexico.

Other hotel workers have come forward with allegations in the days following the deaths, contending that management had ignored complaints of gas leaks from housekeepers, security workers and maintenance staff. A housekeeper had become ill just days before in the same room in which the American couple was later found deceased.

Hotel workers further alleged that carbon monoxide alarms had been disabled this past January due to noise complaints from guests. Guests also complained of powerful gas smells in the dining room when seated next to a fire feature and often requested to be reseated. This had been reported to the food and beverage director at the hotel and there had been no response.

The sequence of events at the Rancho Pescadero continues to unfold as workers protest unsafe working conditions and unfair wage practices. While Hyatt officials had originally stated that it was doubtful that the deaths of Abby Lutz and John Heathco were related to a gas leak, they subsequently released a new statement, acknowledging that the company is “deeply troubled by the recent allegations and speculation about the tragic isolated incident at .”,infrastructure%20or%20a%20gas%20leak.&text=A%20statement%20released%20by%20Hyatt,isolated%20incident%20at%20Rancho%20Pescadero.”

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