Adele Ridless and Mort Victor had their bags packed Thursday but never made their flight. The couple was found dead in their home in the Boca Pointe community, and authorities suspect the culprit was a car left running in the garage.
Firefighters detected high levels of carbon monoxide Thursday afternoon when they entered the home on Travelers Tree Drive, west of Boca Raton. That invisible, odorless gas likely killed Ridless, 69, and her 79-year-old boyfriend, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said.
Several neighbors believe a Mercedes in their garage had keyless ignition, a push-button feature found on cars linked to carbon monoxide deaths and injuries in at least four states.
The Mercedes and an Acura were impounded by investigators, who want to learn if either of the vehicles has keyless ignition and whether one of them was left running in the closed garage and then ran out of gas. Neither was running when deputies arrived.
Ridless’ son, Joshua Ridless — reached by phone in San Francisco — declined to comment about his mother’s death.
Such fatalities have fueled a long-running debate over whether keyless-ignition systems should have stronger warning systems, or even automatic shut-off devices. Some of the systems give warning sounds, but some don’t.
The death of a suburban Boca Raton woman in 2010 and similar cases have spurred efforts to require carmakers to build better warning systems on keyless ignitions.
Chasity Glisson, 29, died from carbon monoxide poisoning in her townhouse west of Boca Raton in August 2010 after her keyless Lexus ran all night in the garage. Her boyfriend Timothy Maddock nearly died.
Also, a Delray Beach woman and seven people in Tampa were hospitalized in similiar separate incidents last year.
Maddock and Glisson’s family are among several victims across the nation who have sued automakers, saying keyless-ignition systems did not properly warn that the car was still running. Glisson’s Lexus may have beeped a few times, but not enough to get her attention, said Eric Rosen, the family’s Fort Lauderdale attorney.
In December, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a proposal to require warning sounds, citing Glisson’s death and personal accounts of several consumers who almost died from cars inadvertently left running in their garages. Officials still are taking public comment on how extensive the warnings should be.
“It’s a start,” said Henry Jasny, general counsel for the nonprofit Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “Is it enough? It won’t absolutely guarantee that a person who is hard of hearing will respond, or that person who has heard this sound before will do something. But it should cut down the number of these tragedies.”
Some advocates and attorneys are pushing to require shut-off devices that would stop a car from running after a certain time — say, 15 or 30 minutes.
“That would certainly save lives,” Rosen said.
Federal officials are not persuaded. In the proposed rule, the traffic safety office said it’s unclear how soon a car must turn off to save lives. Also, officials said, an automatic shutoff could be inconvenient to people who stay in their cars with the engine running, such as when taking a nap or waiting inside with the air conditioning on.
The pair had gone out to dinner Wednesday before returning home, the Sheriff’s Office said, but it wasn’t until around 5 p.m. the next day that their friends found them dead upstairs.
The friends had come to take the couple to the airport for a flight visit Ridless’ son in San Francisco. That’s when they made the discovery.
“It’s such a tragedy,” said Iris Meiseles, who lives across the street. “They were such happy people.”
The 72-year-old woman owns a keyless Buick, and installed a carbon monoxide detector near her attached garage and one by her bed in case she accidentally leaves the car running.
“These cars have no sound. You can hardly hear it when they’re running,” she said.
It’s unknown if Ridless and Victor had a carbon monoxide alarm in their home, according to Palm Beach County Fire Rescue. The gas is hard to detect, and even unsuspecting paramedics have been overcome.
In June 2010, three Palm Beach County Fire Rescue paramedics, and three others, were hospitalized after being in a home in the 4800 block of Bocaire Boulevard, west of Boca Raton. An 89-year-old man had left his car running in the garage and later died. The paramedics, the victim’s widow and two of their caretakers recovered.