HUNTINGTON STATION, N.Y. – Officials investigating a carbon monoxide leak at a New York mall are concentrating on the heating system of a restaurant following the death of the eatery’s 55-year-old manager and more than two dozen others being sent to hospitals.
Suffolk County police identified the man who died Saturday as Steven Nelson, a manager at the Legal Sea Foods restaurant at the Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station on Long Island.
Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick said the medical examiner would determine Nelson’s cause of death.
Fitzpatrick said the initial call to police came shortly after 6 p.m. Saturday about a woman who had fallen and hit her head in the basement of the Legal Sea Foods outlet.
When rescue workers arrived at the scene, they started to feel lightheaded and nauseated and suspected a carbon monoxide leak, Fitzpatrick said.
Police evacuated the restaurant and found Nelson, of Copiague, unconscious in the basement.
The woman who fell was taken to Huntington Hospital, as was Nelson, who was pronounced dead there. There was no immediate word on the woman’s condition.
Authorities said 27 people were taken to five area hospitals. Fitzpatrick said none appeared to have life-threatening injuries. WABC-TV reported that all but a handful of patients had been treated and released.
All of those affected by the fumes were restaurant employees, police or ambulance workers, Fitzpatrick said. He said the leak appeared to originate with the heating system.
“Right now, we are inspecting the heating system, and this incident seems to be confined to the basement area. It does not appear to have made it in the area of the restaurant where the customers were,” he said.
Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless and can lead to death by suffocation.
In addition to the Legal Sea Foods restaurant, two others, Panera and a Cheesecake Factory outlet, were evacuated as a precaution, even as the mall remained open.
“They told us to leave because of a gas leak,” Cheesecake Factory patron Kathy Sella said. “I didn’t want to blow up or anything like that. We were at the bar having a glass of wine and then, one of the waitresses, she said you have to leave.”
The Walt Whitman Shops, located about 35 miles east of New York City, consists of more than 80 stores, including anchors Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor, Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue.