Coroner: Cause of death for 2 found at Allen Benedict Court Apts. ruled carbon monoxide poisoning

Published: Jan. 29, 2019 at 6:12 AM EST
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Richland County Coroner Gary Watts has released the cause of death for two victims found dead at a Columbia Apartment Complex on Thursday Jan. 17.

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

According to the coroner, toxicology test results confirm that Calvin Witherspoon, Jr. and Derrick Caldwell Roper, both of Allen Benedict Court, Columbia, SC, died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.

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.

The Columbia Housing Authority was in violation of the International Fire Code, according to Columbia Fire Department officials.

MORE: Conditions of Allen Benedict Court apartments made ‘a clear and imminent threat’ to residents, fire chief’s letter says

Residents of the apartment building where the two victims were found dead say they’ve smelled an odor of gas for weeks and reported it to housing officials, but nothing was done. Additionally, thousands of work orders filed by residents of Allen Benedict Court apartments in 2018 reveal a host of maintenance issues along with a dozen complaints about gas leaks and odors across the 26-building complex.

The Columbia Housing Authority Board of Commissioners are appointed by members of the Columbia City Council, but has no regulatory power over the agency. The commissioners report to the Housing Authority’s Executive Director Gilbert Walker. According to Mayor Steve Benjamin, while council cannot fire the executive director, it can relieve commissioners.

Mayor Steve Benjamin interview on Allen Benedict Court Apartments:

Columbia Housing Authority Attorney Bob Coble said the accountability will ultimately fall on the board of commissioners to interpret the findings from the multiple agencies involved and decide what the best course of action is moving forward.

WIS reached out to several of the commissioners Monday seeking answers following the coroner’s report, but all deferred to Coble. Coble confirmed because of the seriousness of the investigation and its legal implications, the commissioners have retained counsel.

The Columbia Housing Authority said on Monday, two residents who were displaced as a result of the evacuation at Allen Benedict Court received keys to their new permanent home and will work with the housing authority to move their belongings out of their apartment at Allen Benedict Court and into their new home, a cost covered by CHA.

A lawsuit has been filed by two tenants. Their attorneys said they are seeking compensation for the fact tenants have been deprived of a safe and habitable environment that they’ve been paying rent for.

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