The mysterious deaths of two people and two cats in a Berkeley apartment in January have been determined to have been caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, however the source of that carbon monoxide has yet to be determined, as the Chronicle reported earlier this week. Now, Susan Hanna, the mother of one of the victims, Roger Morash, has filed suit in Alameda County Superior Court that landlords and building owners Cindy M. Kwong and Tony M. Wong were negligent by not installing a carbon monoxide detector near the couple’s sleeping quarters, as is required by state law.
As KRON 4 reports, the suit is seeking unspecified general damages, as well as medical and burial expenses.
35-year-old Roger Morash and 32-year-old Valerie Morash were a couple who'd been married nine years after meeting while they were both students at MIT. By all accounts they were both the sort of highly educated and industrious academics that one finds on many blocks of Berkeley's neighborhoods, he the founder of a video game company with a master's degree in electrical engineering, she with multiple degrees, including master's degrees in electrical engineering and statistics, and a doctorate in psychology from UC Berkeley. Most recently, as the Chronicle reports, she had been doing pioneering work in haptic perception among blind children, rethinking earlier studies that were conducted less scientifically of children learning Braille and having "constructed her own machine to capture finger movements and convert those movements into differential equations."
Early into the investigation into their deaths, which happened in the apartment they'd shared for most of the last decade in a four-unit building at 3028 Deakin Street, authorities honed in on a 3-D printer and a laser cutter, but both were ruled not to have been the culprit in the couple's poisoning neither was powered on at the time.
The poisoning happened one night during a storm, so presumably all the windows were shut, however all the usual suspects in carbon monoxide poisonings like heaters, stovetops, cars in the driveway have been ruled out as well. Furthermore, no carbon monoxide was detected in the unit when hazardous materials crews arrived the day the Morashes' bodies were found.
Both were found on the second floor of the unit in separate rooms, and the only carbon monoxide detector was on the first floor, according to the Chronicle and Ms. Hanna's suit.
Expecting that legal proceedings would be likely, the landlords transferred the building along with a dozen others they own in Oakland to a limited liability corporation a few weeks after the deaths, probably hoping to shield their other assets from litigation, per the Chron. So far, Kwong and Wong have not commented publicly on the case.
City inspectors have cleared the other units in the building as habitable, however, and this may be concerning from a public health perspective. After ordering that carbon monoxide detectors be installed outside the bedrooms of the other units, as has been required by law since 2011, residents in those units have been allowed to stay. But as UC Davis professor of internal medicine Dr. Timothy Albertson tells the Chronicle, "All these events are considered public health issues until they’re solved and hopefully prevented in the future, so an unknown cause like this would be a significant public health issue in the city of Berkeley."