By Shamus Toomey
Chicago Sun Times
Copyright 2006 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
An Orland Park father trying to clear a clogged kitchen sink died Tuesday morning after being overcome by toxic fumes from a mixture of a powerful drain cleaner and other chemicals, authorities said. Five paramedics and a student-paramedic who came to the aid of Gerald Carlton, 47, were hospitalized because of the fumes, although all were expected to recover quickly. Carlton’s wife and adult son were also taken to hospitals after the 8 a.m. mishap in their yellow ranch home in the 10300 block of Hilltop Drive.
The drain in Carlton’s porcelain, double-bowl kitchen sink had been stopped up for days, and he had tried several chemicals to loosen the blockage, police said. First, he poured in Liquid-Plumr several days ago. When that didn’t work, he tried Rooto Professional Drain Opener, an industrial strength concentrate with sulphuric acid, Orland Park Police Cmdr. Chuck Doll said.
Police also found Comet near the sink, a cleaning powder that contains chlorine bleach.
It’s unclear whether Carlton used the Comet in the sink, but when he poured in the Rooto on Tuesday, a reaction started and lethal vapors began rising, Doll said, citing an account from Carlton’s son, Matthew, 22. Police said there was a strong smell of chlorine in the home. “This is a tragic accident,” said Chief Donald Bettenhausen of the Orland Fire Protection District. “It was a bad cocktail, a chemical cocktail.”
Matthew Carlton, who had been helping his dad, called 911. By the time paramedics got there, Gerald Carlton’s heart had stopped and his wife Muriel, 49, and son had fallen ill.
PARAMEDICS DIDN’T WEAR MASKS
The paramedics did not wear masks when they went in because they thought they were there for an asthma attack, Bettenhausen said. “They dragged these people out of the house, which caused them to actually succumb to the fumes,” he said. Carlton, plagued recently by an ear infection, had called in sick Tuesday.
“I can’t believe it,” said Ron Ruminski, his manager at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. “Jerry was a great guy, the most giving and helpful guy.” Ruminski said Carlton, a Blue Cross information technology employee for at least 25 years, sent an e-mail at 7:20 a.m. saying he was still sick.
Dick Dickinson, who lives nearby, said his cousin Muriel Carlton called him about her husband’s death. Dickinson said Matthew Carlton was out of intensive care by Tuesday afternoon. “I’m a retired plumber,” Dickinson said quietly. “I wish they had given me a call. I would have taken care of it for them.”
Raymond Kay, an Orland Fire battalion chief, urged people not to mix household chemicals because they could release gases. “Sometimes we think we add a little bit of this, that’s good. Add a little more, that’s better,” Kay said. “That’s not a good idea. We need to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and not mix chemicals.”