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Child protective investigator dies after neighbor's car left running in New Tampa garage

Shown is the open garage next to the apartment in the Vista Grande complex in Tampa on Thursday. A woman was killed and two others taken to the hospital due to carbon monoxide poisoning there.

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

Shown is the open garage next to the apartment in the Vista Grande complex in Tampa on Thursday. A woman was killed and two others taken to the hospital due to carbon monoxide poisoning there.

TAMPA — Rebecca Hawk just started training to be a child protective investigator. Her supervisor thought she was bright and caring and had a good future in helping kids.

But as Hawk rested before going to work, a deadly gas robbed her body of oxygen.

When authorities whisked the 23-year-old from her New Tampa apartment Thursday still in her pajamas, she appeared unresponsive, neighbors said. She died Thursday morning.

Police say they don't know why a neighbor, Andrew Grywalski, 22, left a gray 2011 Mazda 3 running inside his father's garage.

No one noticed until about 9 a.m. when a maintenance worker smelled fumes coming from Building 900 at the Vista Grande Apartments. His biggest fear was the one he couldn't smell: carbon monoxide.

He started evacuating residents while an apartment manager called 911, police said.

Hawk's roommate, Kashaunda Joyner, 20, was taken to University Community Hospital, where she was stable Thursday evening. A 62-year-old resident from an upstairs apartment was also taken to the hospital as a precaution but was later released.

Hawk had just started working for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office in June. She was still training with her classmates and always had a good sense of humor, said Maj. Robert Bullara.

"It's a somber day," Bullara said. "We hate to lose somebody with a bright future here."

Hawk's mother, Sandra Hawk, choked up when talking about her beloved daughter, who'd call home to Jacksonville every day.

When she didn't hear from her daughter Thursday, she became worried and called the Chick-fil-A restaurant where Joyner worked. A manager said there had been an accident.

"She was the most wonderful, wonderful daughter in the whole world," Sandra Hawk said. "She was much, much loved."

Hawk graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in psychology in 2010. She wanted to help children, her mother said, so she applied for a job with the Sheriff's Office.

Hawk is survived by her mother and father, Douglas Hawk, two older sisters and a brother.

"She was our baby," Sandra Hawk said.

As police tried to treat Hawk on Thursday, Grywalski sat on a curb and cried, said neighbor Bobby Killen, 23. Authorities have not charged Grywalski, nor does he have a criminal record in Florida, state records show.

A man who answered a phone number listed for Grywalski declined to comment.

McElroy said he was very distraught, and detectives continued to investigate.

Hawk and Joyner lived in a downstairs apartment adjacent to the garage. The third victim had an upstairs apartment.

It was not clear how carbon monoxide traveled from the garage into the nearby apartments. Because the garage is set back into the apartment building, they share a wall.

Kathy Hensley, a regional supervisor for the apartment company, declined to explain the building's features or allow a reporter inside the garage. She said the company has been cooperating with police.

She wouldn't say if the apartments have carbon monoxide detectors. The detectors are not required in Hillsborough County apartments unless there are gas appliances in the same room, said Capt. Lonnie Benniefield of Tampa Fire Rescue.

Benniefield said the Vista Grande Apartments complex appears up to code and did not require the detectors.

But he said owners could put in the $15 detectors anyway.

"That is a tragedy that happened out there," he said.

In 2007, two boys ages 12 and 14 died of carbon monoxide poisoning after the family van was left running in the garage of their New Port Richey home.

Since then, at least 14 people in the Tampa Bay area have been sickened by suspected carbon monoxide fumes after vehicles were left running in the garage on four occasions.

Killen and his roommates say they're thankful the maintenance worker acted so quickly.

They said it was tragic that a woman died, but said it could have been worse.

A firefighter who entered their apartment got a carbon monoxide reading and evacuated them along with many neighbors.

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or jvandervelde@sptimes.com.

Silent killer

» Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas. It can cause sudden illness and death if inhaled. Every year, more than 400 people die in the United States from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.

» Carbon monoxide is found in combustion fumes, including those produced by gasoline engines. It can build up in enclosed spaces.

Source: Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention

Child protective investigator dies after neighbor's car left running in New Tampa garage 09/01/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 2, 2011 4:49pm]
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