A deadly cold-weather lesson

  • Article by: LORA PABST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 3, 2008 - 11:19 PM

A gas generator had been running for only a few hours, but it produced fumes strong enough to kill three people in north Minneapolis.

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A memorial outside the rambler contained messages such as “We will miss U” written on the makeshift cross. Flowers and stuffed animals were also left by mourners.

Photo: Jennifer Simonson, Star Tribune

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Hours before Harold Barnett, his 14-year-old son and a close friend died of apparent carbon monoxide poisoning at a home in north Minneapolis Thursday, another friend had warned Barnett that running a gasoline-powered generator inside the house could be deadly.

"I said 'Shut it off. You can't run it in the house, it'll kill you,'" said James Morgan, who found Barnett, 44, his friend Raymond Carr, 52, and his son Terrell Barnett unconscious inside the house after breaking down the door.

The generator had been left running in the basement of the rambler on Girard and 17th Avenues N. Thursday afternoon. Authorities said when they arrived at the house at about 6:30 p.m., the levels of carbon monoxide were at a deadly 500 parts per million.

Becca Virden, a spokesperson for CenterPoint Energy, said running a gas-powered generator in the basement would be like "running a car in your basement."

The accident was a brutal reminder of the danger that can come when the fall chill arrives and people start to close up their homes and turn on furnaces and other heating devices.

Starting Aug. 1 this year, a state law went into effect requiring carbon monoxide alarms to be installed within 10 feet of every room used for sleeping in existing single-family homes.

Firefighters at the home on Girard Avenue, where Barnett lived with his son and a woman who was not home at the time, did not hear or observe any working carbon monoxide detectors, according to fire officials. An inspector from the city's housing division will ultimately determine whether the house had any working detectors.

The owner of the house said the house was leased to the woman Barnett lived with, but he declined to comment on whether the home had carbon monoxide detectors.

Trouble paying electric bill

Friends of Harold Barnett said they were surprised that he brought the generator inside the house in the first place, saying that he knew a lot about ventilation from his years as a contractor remodeling homes. His contractor work had dried up once the housing market slowed, and he had been having trouble paying his electric bill, leading to his using the generator, Morgan said.

"He probably thought a couple hours wouldn't hurt," Morgan said.

Barnett had been running the generator in the garage for a few weeks, making sure it was ventilated so the fumes wouldn't drift toward the house, Morgan said. But Morgan said Barnett told him that he was worried the neighbors would be bothered by the sound of the generator, so he brought it into the basement Thursday.

Morgan was supposed to go to the house after work to help Barnett ventilate the generator, but Barnett didn't answer several phone calls. Morgan immediately suspected the worst and rushed over to the house with his brother.

"I pounded on the door and tried to pry it open," he said. "When that didn't work, I kicked the door in." Carr was lying in the kitchen near the back door and Terrell was facedown on a bed in another room, Morgan said. After carrying Terrell to the door, Morgan ran to the basement to try to shut off the generator. Barnett was lying right next to it. Morgan believes he had tried to shut it off before he was overcome by the fumes.

Authorities tried to revive all three, but Carr and Harold Barnett died at the scene. Terrell Barnett died later at Hennepin County Medical Center.

John Baker, who said he had known Barnett for nine years, joked that Barnett, who went by the nickname of Band Aid, was "a jack of trades but a master of none."

"Harold is a smart guy," he said. "He would have known better than to run a generator in the basement without ventilation."

Terrell Barnett and his dad were "really close," Morgan said. After Terrell's video game system was stolen, Harold told Morgan to stop at the pawn shop so he could buy his son another game system.

"He always had brand new clothes for him," Morgan said. "His dad always took care of him."

Staff writer David Chanen contributed to this report. Lora Pabst • 612-673-4628

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