Gail Amundsen and Murray Church, longtime residents of Point Roberts, were discovered dead in their home on Calder Drive on Thanksgiving Day evening. The presumptive cause of death was declared by Whatcom County Medical Examiner Gary Goldfogel, MD, to be asphyxia by inhalation of incomplete products of hydrocarbon combustion or, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Murray Church was 67 and Gail Amundsen was 61.
The couple were discovered by two family friends after being contacted by the couple’s children who had not heard from them since November 21. The friends went to the couple’s house which was locked and in darkness. Receiving no response to their knocks, one of the friends climbed a ladder to access the second floor and could see the male in bed. The woman was later found in the adjoining bathroom. According to Whatcom County chief deputy sheriff Kevin Hester, it is believed that the deaths took place sometime after the 21st and “occurred in the middle of the night or early morning as suggested by their attire and locations.”
After the discovery, the two friends called 911 shortly after 7 p.m. and the fire department arrived soon thereafter. According to fire chief Christopher Carleton, two firefighters attempted to enter but turned back after their monitors registered dangerous levels of CO in the house. The ground floor registered 1300 ppm while the basement level was later determined to be 1800 ppm. The U.S. standard for CO levels is a maximum of 35 ppm for a 1-hour exposure (not to be exceeded more than once a year) and a maximum of 9 ppm for an 8-hour exposure, again just once a year. Exposure at the levels found in the residence would lead to a loss of consciousness in less than an hour. As CO is colorless, odorless and tasteless, it is especially dangerous to individuals who are asleep.
Two firefighters wearing self-contained breathing apparatus subsequently entered the house to perform a search and to begin airing it out. The initial investigation was then turned over to the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO). According to Hester, their role in the investigation is now complete as the deaths were ruled accidental and not the result of any criminal activity. It is not known if other agencies are investigating the deaths. If so, it would be either the county planning and development department, the state department of Labor and Industries, or “if the family pursues an independent investigation or lawsuit,” said Hester.
Newly constructed, the couple had only moved into the house on August 9. According to the fire chief and WCSO, while the house had fire detectors, no CO monitors or alarms were found. Since 2011, all newly constructed homes in Washington state must have CO alarms installed adjacent to all bedrooms and on all floors. According to Hester, the source of the CO is believed to be the furnace/boiler system that powered the radiant heating. There were no other sources of potential CO located in the residence.
The couple are survived by their two children, Hailey and Dawson, both in their 20s. Funeral and memorial arrangements will be announced at a later date.
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