Gas leak investigation continues after 2 found dead at Columbia apartments, victims identified

City to inspect Allen Benedict complex

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Crews are continuing to investigate an incident at a Columbia residence where two people were found dead Thursday morning.

The incident happened at the Allen Benedict Court Apartments off of Read Street and Harden Street. Columbia Fire officials said that several gas leaks were found at the complex on Thursday night and inspections continued Friday morning.

Richland County Coroner Gary Watts identified the two individuals who were found deceased in their apartments after authorities responded to welfare checks on each of them. No foul play is suspected regarding these deaths, the coroner said.

Calvin Witherspoon, Jr., 62, of Columbia, was found deceased in his apartment. The coroner also identified Derrick Caldwell Roper, 31, of Columbia.

Both autopsies were performed and the results are pending further testing.

Officials will provide updates on the investigation at 12 p.m. Friday. You can watch the press conference below or watch on the WIS Facebook page.

The two victims were found in two different units separated by another unit. The first call was a welfare check after one of the victims didn’t show up for work. Once inside, investigators found the deceased.

“When they went in there, they immediately ran back out the door so I asked them to go into this apartment next door because I hadn’t seen that fella and when they went in he was gone,” Cathy Pearson, a neighbor said.

Officials began investigating Thursday morning and continued that evening into Friday morning.

“Often times when you have unintended death, especially if there’s not a sign of trauma, no immediate sign of trauma, we’re looking at situations involving gas especially this time of year, or carbon monoxide, or narcotics,” Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook said. “We didn’t see any evidence of that.”

“I think it’s always good to do a thorough check of every unit when you have any type of issues so our plan is to work with the police department, the code enforcement folks and do a joint inspection of all the buildings,” Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins said.

Residents of the apartment building where two people were found dead say they’ve smelled an odor of gas for weeks and reported it but nothing has been done.

“Gas fumes, I may get that once a month,” said resident Tami Palmer. “And I’m only speaking for myself, I can’t speak about residents. But sewer fumes almost daily, to the point where I cannot even have company over because I’m embarrassed.

Jenkins says by the time they arrived, no lethal levels of gas or carbon monoxide were detected in the units where the two dead were found. However, he says that doesn’t mean that wasn’t the cause. Things can air out, he said.

“I think everybody should have a carbon monoxide detector because carbon monoxide is that silent killer,” Jenkins said. “You can’t smell it so I think everybody should have a carbon monoxide – especially when you’re using any type of appliance that uses gas, fireplaces, stuff like that.”

Firefighters measured for carbon monoxide and gas inside each additional unit where bodies were not found but didn’t detect any levels Chief Aubrey Jenkins said.

Officials urge residents to avoid the area due to the first responder activity. Any cases of residents being displaced by the gas leaks will be handled by the Columbia Housing Authority, according to Columbia Fire officials.

Two dead at Columbia apartment complex

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