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Two girls, 11, believed dead from carbon monoxide poisoning west of Boca - 06/01/09

Investigators checking possible source: Car in attached garage

By Scott Travis
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

4:16 PM EDT, May 31, 2009 BOCA RATON

Two 11-year old girls have died from what officials believe was carbon monoxide poisoning in a house where one of them lived.
A woman who lives on the 1100 block of Island Lake Lane, west of Boca Raton, called 911 about 9 a.m. today, saying her daughter was not responsive, said Teri Barbera, spokeswoman for the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.
Family members have identified the woman as Loretta Wilson, 45. Her daughter, Amber Wilson, 11, died, as well as a friend. Law enforcement officials have not released the name of the friend, pending notification of next of kin.
Fire-rescue officials found one girl in a bedroom, one in the kitchen and a small dog outside, Barbera said. The children, both sixth-graders, were found dead. The two girls were friends, and one was staying over at the other's house for a sleepover, Barbera said.
The mother was taken to the West Boca Raton Medical Center, where she is expected to survive, Barbera said. The dog was taken by Animal Care and Control and is recovering.

"We really don't know much. My daughter's still in the hospital. No one is allowed in yet. We don't know what's going on," said Wilson's mother, Margaret Lance, contacted at her home in Ellwood City, Pa. Lance said her other daughter, Kristina Lance, who lives with her sister in the house on Island Lake Lane, is at the hospital but hasn't been able to go in. Investigators are still trying to figure out what happened. They don't know if the vehicle in the garage, a Ford Escape, was left running. The mother had been overtaken by fumes when emergency workers arrived, and they haven't had a chance to interview her yet. "This is a huge missing piece," Barbera said. The Ford was not running when emergency officials arrived.

"When we arrived on the scene, the keys were not in the vehicle. They were on the kitchen table, and the vehicle had half a tank of gas," Barbera said. "We don't know if it was some type of malfunction." Fire-rescue workers said there are traces of carbon monoxide in the house, she said.

A 9-year-old boy also lives at the house but was sleeping at a friend's house, Barbera said. The children's father, Kenneth Wilson, lives in Massachusetts, she said.

"All indications was [the woman] was planning a business trip. Her clothes had all been laid out," Barbera said. "There's no reason to believe any foul play. It appears to be a tragic accident."

Carbon monoxide deaths are rare, said Tim O'Connor, a spokesman for the Palm Beach County Health Department. Other than suicides, the last one he recalls was during Hurricane Wilma. He said these deaths are more common during and after hurricanes, when people have power outages and use generators, or bring grills inside.

"The good part is it's rare, but it's something people really need to be aware of," he said.

He said families may want to consider buying carbon monoxide monitors, similar to smoke alarms.

In Florida, 198 died from 2000-2006 as a result of non-fire related carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the latest data available from the Florida Department of Health's website.

Staff Researcher Barbara Hijek and Staff Writer Rachel Hatzipanagos contributed to this report.

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