Criminal Justice

Contractor faces unusual manslaughter case concerning carbon monoxide deaths

A California contractor is facing an unusual manslaughter prosecution over work performed on a heating system.

Authorities in Nevada County say two men died of carbon monoxide poisoning because contractor Kurt Schoemig didn’t pull a permit and his employees never completed their work after cutting heating system pipes at a vacation home to make room for a garage door, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

However, Schoemig’s counsel says intervening factors, including a squirrel that later built a nest that cut off the air circulation for the heating system, caused the carbon monoxide buildup. Gary Trovinger, 57, and his friend, Albert Senzatimore, 69, died within minutes after they walked into the home. Investigators for a related civil case found the nest and say a sensor that should have turned off the furnace due to a lack of air intake may also have malfunctioned. Trovinger reportedly used his smartphone to turn on the system remotely, resulting in a several-hour buildup of the colorless, odorless gas before the men arrived.

Stephen Munkelt represents the 41-year-old Schoemig. The attorney called the case tragic but not criminal.

“The prosecution is going to have a really, really big problem,” he told the newspaper. “At the time they filed charges, they certainly didn’t know there was any obstruction in the intake. A normally operating furnace would not produce any harmful level of carbon monoxide.”

However, assistant district attorney Anna Ferguson said filing the criminal case was the right thing to do, although she knew the case “wouldn’t necessarily make me popular.”

Schoemig faces a felony manslaughter case concerning Senzatimore and a misdemeanor manslaughter case concerning Trovinger, because the homeowner bore some responsibility due to authorizing the work, the Chronicle explains.

The contractor has pleaded not guilty.

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