HUNTINGTON STATION, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signed a bill into law Wednesday requiring carbon monoxide detectors in all county buildings.
As CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, the Steve Nelson Safety Act comes in response to the death of a restaurant manager in February. Steve Nelson, 55, was found dead in the basement of Legal Sea Foods at the Walt Whitman Shops following a carbon monoxide leak.
As WCBS 880′s Sophia Hall reported, Wednesday’s announcement about the law’s passage marked a very emotional day for Nelson’s partner, John Largan.
“I was honored to have him in my life as my dearest friend and my companion,” Largan said.
Largan said if there had been a detector at Legal Sea Foods, Nelson would still be alive today.
He said Nelson was sick with a rash and constant headaches before the odorless gas filled the restaurant.
“The Tuesday before he died, he came home and he kneeled next to the bed, burying his head in his hands and said, ‘John, I feel like I’m dying,’” Largan said.
Nelson had scheduled an appointment with a specialist for Feb. 26. He died Feb. 22.
Nelson, the manager of Legal Sea Foods, was killed by lethal levels of carbon monoxide poisoning. Twenty others were also sickened at the Huntington Station restaurant, but survived.
Now, three months later, Nelson’s death has inspired change.
“For all that, I am very proud to sign this bill into law,” Bellone said.
Under the law, all commercial and public buildings in the County of Suffolk will have three years to install carbon monoxide detectors, and new building must hard-wire the safety devices.
“Eighteen million people in New York deserve to have this type of protection, and not be proposed to a silent killer,” said Suffolk County Legislator John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-12th), a co-sponsor of the bill.
“We are talking about a preventable death,” added Suffolk County Legislator William Spencer (D-18th), also a co-sponsor. “We need to make this a national issue, and that is the next step for us.”
Nelson was exposed to a slow leak of carbon monoxide, and for weeks, he was riddled with a headache, fever, rash, and nausea. His friends recalled a doctor giving him some pills and sending him home back to work – unaware that Nelson’s blood was being poisoned.
Nelson’s office was downstairs in the restaurant, where there was no ventilation.
“The passage of this law gives us something tangible to hold onto,” Largan said. “The fact that it’s named after Steve makes it all the more bittersweet.”
Largan said he would also like to see a statewide law mandating carbon monoxide detectors.
“We’ve heard it before — someone usually has to die in order for real change to take place,” Largan said. “Well, unfortunately for Steve and for all of us who had the privilege of knowing him and loving him, that was the case here.”
A faulty water heater flue pipe caused the carbon monoxide leak at Legal Sea Foods, officials said.
Legal Sea Foods broke no laws, because there were none on the books requiring carbon monoxide detectors.
Since Nelson’s death, the restaurant voluntarily installed the detectors in all its locations. The restaurant owner will work with Suffolk County to make carbon monoxide detectors a state and national mandate.