Carbon monoxide kills two in Kennesaw home

Michael Cox was the kind of man who would do anything to help a neighbor. So when he asked to borrow a generator Thursday evening, Ken Lewis brought it over.

Friday morning, Lewis said it was hard not to blame himself for the deaths of Cox and a 21-year-old stepson, James Benjamin Jr. The two Kennesaw men died from apparent carbon monoxide poisoning caused by the generator that was placed too close to the home.

"He was such a good man," said Lewis, with tear-filled eyes. "I went out of town this past weekend, and I came back and he had cut my grass."

Cox, 55, had allowed Benjamin, his daughter, and her 10-year-old son to move into the home on Twelve Oaks Circle to make ends meet, Lewis said. When Cox's daughter, identified as Natasha, arrived home Thursday evening, she found the two men unresponsive and called 911.

Another neighbor, Tiffanie Chosa, told the AJC the 10-year-old plays football and had practice Thursday before returning home with his mother. Standing on her front porch, Chosa said her three children often played with the boy, who attends Big Shanty Elementary School.

Natasha and her son were hospitalized, but both were expected to be released Friday, according to Lt. Dan Dupree with the Cobb County fire department.

"They were very fortunate to survive this," Dupree said Friday afternoon outside the home. "When we got off our trucks, were detecting carbon monoxide in the front yard," Dupree said Friday afternoon outside the home.

The amount of carbon monoxide detected in the home would have been lethal in about 15 minutes, Dupree said.

"The carbon monoxide levels were so high in the house, it was dangerous for firefighters and police officers to go in," said Lt. Craig Graydon with Kennesaw police.

None of the emergency responders were injured, Graydon said. The family's three dogs and a turtle also survived.

Electricity to the home had been cut off Thursday because of nonpayment of a power bill. The power was turned back on Friday.

A spokesman for Georgia Power said customers are given ample notice when service will be stopped.

"We don't want anyone's lights cut off," Mark Williams told the AJC.

Williams said customers who cannot pay their power bill should contact the utility immediately. The utility can assist with payment options, he said.

After the landlord misplaced a rent check, the family paid rent again, Lewis said. Then, a car needed repairs.

"He took the money to get the car out of the shop that was for the electric bills," Lewis said. "He was struggling to make it."

Cox walked to and from his job at a Zaxby's restaurant, according to Lewis. But Thursday, Lewis saw Cox walking and gave his friend a ride home. It was the least he could for someone so quick to help others, Lewis said.

With temperatures dipping into the 30s Thursday night, Lewis said the Honda 3000 generator should have been adequate to keep electricity on in the home. But he said the generator was meant to be used "on the outside, always on the exterior of the home." Lewis said he told Cox that when he brought it to him.

Instead, the generator was left running just inside sliding glass doors on the back of the house. It is quiet and efficient when it runs, Lewis said.

The generator was in the same spot Friday afternoon, but Lewis couldn't look at it for long.

Carbon monoxide is particularly dangerous because you can't smell or see it, Dupree said. Portable carbon monoxide detectors should be on every floor of a home, much like smoke detectors, he said.

Carbon monoxide concentration is measured in parts per million or ppm, and most detectors will sound an alarm at 70 ppm, Dupree said. A person may experience symptoms such as a headache, dizziness and chest pains at ranges over 100 ppm, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Firefighters detected carbon monoxide of 560 ppm in the Cox home, Dupree said.