In mid-December, the Murphy family came down with what they thought was the flu.
They rested, trying to shake the nausea and headaches. But a few days later, on the morning of Dec. 17, 24-year-old Joel Murphy awoke to find he couldn't walk. He managed to call 911, saving his own life and that of his 2-year-old son, Julien.
His wife, 22-year-old Kelly, was already dead.
As it turned out, there was a carbon monoxide leak in the family's Manitou Springs rental, which they had moved into just weeks before. Police are still investigating the leak's source, but one thing's for sure: A carbon monoxide detector, a device that can cost less than $20, could have saved Kelly's life. The rental, owned by former Manitou mayor Bill Koerner, didn't have one. And there's no law saying it should have.
That could change. Manitou City Councilor Aimee Cox says the tragedy has inspired her to look at laws in other communities requiring detectors in at least some homes (such as rentals or newly constructed homes). She wants Manitou to pass a law, and will push for it in January. She has the support of the newly formed "Never Again Campaign" scores of Manitoids rallying behind the issue.
"It was terribly tragic, what happened," Cox says. "Some of the housing in Manitou is very poor quality, and I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often."
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, toxic gas that often causes headaches, vertigo and flu-like symptoms; it sickens or kills thousands of Americans yearly. The gas is produced when any fuel is incompletely burned, and thus poisoning is more common in winter, when furnaces are running.
Laws mandating detectors are sprinkled around the nation. After a family of four died in an Aspen home in November, Aspen and Pitkin County quickly strengthened laws requiring the life-saving devices, which will soon be required in all residences.
But there's no statewide law. In April, a bill that would have required some homes to have the detectors was defeated after lobbying by home builders, realtors and apartment owners. Determined state lawmakers plan to introduce a similar bill in 2009.
Sadly, no law will bring back Kelly Murphy. Friends and family describe her as a smiling, happy young woman who adored her husband and son and was well-liked at Adam's Mountain Caf, where she worked. Her brother-in-law, Stefan Murphy, a single father of two, says Kelly was always willing to help with his kids.
"Kelly was one of those people she would fill a room with laughter," family friend Nic Grzecka remembers. "You would walk into a room and you wanted to know her."
In the Murphys' chaos and grief, money hasn't been the first consideration. But it is a problem. Kelly was the breadwinner; Joel was a full-time dad. Now Joel and Julien have plenty of funeral and medical expenses. They had to be hospitalized due to exposure to the gas; Joel was near death. Father and son are living with Stefan until other arrangements can be made.
A fundraiser, including group discussion on actions to pursue, is planned for Jan. 4 at Manitou's Venue 515. It's organized by the Never Again group, led by Farley McDonough, Stefan Murphy and Independent publisher John Weiss.