Public awareness is behind requests for hearings
By Judd Slivka and Maureen West
The Arizona Republic
February 6, 2001

Since August, Ken Dixey has wondered when somebody would take action so no more children die of carbon monoxide poisoning on houseboats.

Six months after two of the Parker, Colo., dentist's children drowned after passing out from a houseboat generator's fumes, someone has.

Two Arizona congressmen joined the chorus for congressional hearings into houseboat design. The move is in addition to a Colorado congressman's standing request for a recall of all boats that vent their generators to the rear under swim platforms.

"It's wonderful," Dixey said of the call for hearings. "They are finally going to do something."

Reports of the Dixey children's deaths - and those of scores of similar incidents - are behind the call for hearings.

"This is a textbook example of how the Fourth Estate should work," Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., said. "Journalists point out the problem, and now we have a chance to look at it, work on it and fix it."

During hearings, industry officials and the Coast Guard would likely go before the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation and explain how a design flaw that may have killed scores of people around the county was allowed into mass production. If the committee doesn't like the answers, it could mandate a recall on top of the voluntary recall some companies have instituted.

Houseboats on Lake Powell have been involved in seven deaths and 74 serious injuries from carbon monoxide over the past decade. The Arizona portion of the lake is in Rep. Bob Stump's district. He signed the letter to the subcommittee chairman asking for a hearing but is not yet pressing for a mandatory recall, as Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., is.

"He supports an oversight hearing, to get the facts and information into the public record," said Lisa Atkins, Stump's chief of staff. "But he does not support a full recall now. We feel we want to hear what the manufacturers have to say, what the Coast Guard has to say before we go ahead with that.

"With the information out there, we felt it would be a good idea to create a public record. This way, if a legislative or administrative solution needs to be found, all the facts are there."

A Coast Guard-imposed deadline for manufacturers to suggest their own design changes passed a week ago, and the service has heard from 13 of 85 manufacturers that it tried to contact. Others are on the way, a Coast Guard official said Monday. The companies "just got busy and missed the deadline."

Coast Guard officials, who may be called to task for ignoring two National Park Service warnings about carbon monoxide dangers, said they were happy to hear about the hearings.

"It will help draw attention to it," said Phil Cappel, who heads the service's recreational boating quality-assurance division. "Sometimes that takes up staff time preparing for the hearings, but I think if it will call attention to the dangers and to our recall powers, that's good."

At least one major manufacturer, Monticello, Ky.-based Stardust Cruisers, isn't sure about the hearings and the publicity over the deaths.

"I'm a little puzzled by all of it," said Donya Clarke, the company's comptroller. "There's just no quick fix. Everybody's thinking the Coast Guard is going to point out some magic bullet. But if they had one, they would have put it out a long time ago."


    Copyright 2001, The Arizona Republic. All rights reserved. This article graciously provided courtesy of The Arizona Republic.