Columbia, SC – None of the apartments at a public housing complex where two men died after gas leaks had legally mandated carbon monoxide detectors, fire officials said.
Authorities evacuated all residents last week after finding high levels of gas in about 65 of the 244 units at Allen Benedict Court near downtown Columbia. The inspections took place after two men were found dead in separate apartments in the complex on Jan. 17.
Out-of-date fire extinguishers, missing or broken smoke detectors and closets with charred walls were also found in some apartments, the Columbia Fire Department said in inspection notes it released Thursday.
The firefighters also found roaches, bed bugs, rodent droppings and some apartments that didn’t have a single window that could open.
Columbia City Councilman Moe Baddourah on Thursday called for a special council meeting to urge Columbia Housing Authority Director Gilbert Walker to resign.
“That residents remained in the apartments despite a number of complaints about gas leak smells indicates, at the very least, negligence. Frankly, someone must be held accountable,” Baddourah wrote in an email to other council members.
Mayor Steve Benjamin said the authority is an independent organization and only the seven-member board that oversees the organization can fire the director.
The coroner’s office has not listed an exact cause of death for 62-year-old Calvin Witherspoon Jr. and 31-year-old Derrick Roper last week, but city officials have blamed the gas leak.
Officials said residents won’t be able to return to the complex until all the leaks and other problems are resolved.
One possibility mentioned by Benjamin is razing the complex, which was built in 1939. But it is much too early to make those decisions, the mayor said.
The more than 400 residents evacuated have been given temporary housing and help with transportation and the Housing Authority will give them as much help as they need as long as possible, the organization’s attorney Bob Coble said in a statement.
“This situation is unfortunate, and we are working with the City of Columbia to find the best possible resolution for all residents involved,” Coble said.