North Carolina officer saves 13 people after potentially deadly gas leak

A North Carolina police officer is being recognized as a hero after saving more than a dozen people from a restaurant after a potentially deadly gas leak. (Provided Photo/WAVY)

EDENTON, N.C. (WAVY) — A police officer is being recognized as a hero after saving more than a dozen people from a restaurant after a potentially deadly gas leak.

Doctors treated 15 people, including five first responders, for carbon monoxide poisoning after a leak Wednesday at Leon Nixon Catering on Virginia Road.

Corporal Gerald Lassiter said he responded to the restaurant around 8 a.m. and found a man dry-heaving and complaining of stomach pain. Shortly after that incident, he responded back to the business where a second employee complained of chest pain. A third call came in within the same two-hour period from a barber shop downtown. He said a man there showed similar symptoms. That man told Lassiter he had just left Nixon Catering following his shift.

“All I could think was that something wasn’t right and I didn’t know what it was,”he says.

Lassiter said he rushed back to the business and evacuated the 13 people remaining inside, including a toddler and an 8-year-old girl.

The evacuation proved to be no easy task.

“It was almost like speaking a foreign language,” says Lassiter. “I was talking to them and explaining to them that we needed to get out of the building. Nothing that I said registered. They just looked at me and just kind of walked around like they were spaced out.”

The employees seemed disoriented, confused and some were unable to stand, according to Lassiter. Fire Chief Craig Forlines says those inside Nixon Catering were experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

“People slowly become disoriented, slowly become in an oxygen-deprived state and make bad decisions,” said Forlines. “It’s odorless, tasteless, colorless (and) can’t be detected, except with a monitor. You are not able to make good decisions. You are not able to get oxygen to all of your organs, to your brain, so it’s a life-threatening injury. That’s why they call carbon monoxide the silent killer.”

Forlines says carbon monoxide levels that should have read “0 PPM”, which stands for parts per million, read “60 PPM” in the doorway, “800 PPM” in the office area and “860 PPM” in the kitchen. The chief says evacuation is recommended at “5 PPM” adding the levels inside the business were high enough to kill somebody.

Edenton Police Chief Jay Fortenbery said  Lassiter’s police work likely saved lives, calling him a hero for connecting the dots of the three calls so quickly.

“I appreciate that compliment more than anything. But it’s what we are, it’s who we are, it’s what we do and we do it because we love it and love helping people. Thankfully it played out the way it did and everybody was okay,” says Lassiter.

Nine people needed to be flown from Chowan Hospital to Duke University Hospital in Durham to be put in their decompression chamber.

Everyone has been released from the hospital, according to Nixon Catering.

Forlines said it’s not a requirement to have a carbon monoxide detector. But he hopes homeowners and businesses will install them voluntarily as a cheap safeguard to protect their lives and property.

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