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January 1998 Vol. 13, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Bad Air in Key Largo

Carbon monoxide poisoning claims one

from the January, 1998 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

It’s rare for a diver to die because of bad air, but on July 4th, after renting a tank at the Scuba Quest dive shop in Key Largo, Garry Tuomey succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning.

A woman diving with Tuomey became ill but recovered. Tuomey, 42, of Indian Shores, Florida, was found lying on the bottom, his regulator out of his mouth. He drowned after becoming incapacitated by a 32 percent level of carbon monoxide in his bloodstream.

When we first reported this story in the September 1997 issue, the cause had not been determined. Scuba Quest’s regional manager claimed he had no clue as to how it could have happened. However, an investigation by local authorities has revealed new evidence.

According to detectives, the filtration system on Scuba Quest’s Bauer compressor blew apart on July 1 when an air-flow sensor failed. The force of the explosion damaged the ceiling.

Carbon ignited inside the compressor’s filter, which then burned through the top and failed under pressure. Sheriff’s detective Tim Pupke said Bauer, the compressor manufacturer, instructed the dive shop to clear the entire compressor system of air, including the air lines and the banks of stored air.

“From my understanding, they purged the lines by using more air,’’ the detective said. “But they were told to run a kind of solution through the lines and tanks to clear any deposits that might be there. I don’t believe that was done.”

When the tanks Tuomey and his friends rented were filled, it was with air that had been contaminated by the explosion. Another contaminated tank was discovered by a man who bought it new, already filled, July 16 at the dive shop. He told investigators he became ill after using it briefly in his backyard pool. Apparently, Scuba Quest continued to use the compressor for several more weeks, then replaced it with a new one in August.

The medical examiner ruled Tuomey’s death accidental, and the investigation was closed because no state laws were violated. Nonetheless, Tuomey’s family is suing Scuba Quest and Bauer Compressor.

John B. Kralovec, the Chicago attorney representing the Tuomeys, said the case is clear-cut. “It shouldn’t have happened. It was wrong,” he said.

The suit charges that the compressor malfunctioned on July 1 and was purportedly repaired by a Bauer service technician, who left instructions for Scuba Quest on how to complete the repair. Scuba Quest should have been more diligent, the suit says, and Bauer should have warned employees of Scuba Quest that further cleaning was necessary before use to ensure that the air used to fill the tanks was safe.

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