PROVO — A Provo woman hopes her story and her $350,000 lawsuit against a Provo apartment complex finally motivates a majority of Utahns to buy carbon monoxide detectors.

She also hopes to convince Brigham Young University, not a party to the 4th District Court suit, to put detectors in on-campus housing and require them in BYU-approved off-campus housing.

Kerry Shelton Toronto is suing Stadium Terrace Apartments for negligence that allegedly led to carbon monoxide poisoning while she lived there three years ago. She plans to seek a meeting with BYU officials because the university wields unusual power in Provo's rental market.

Students must live in BYU-contracted housing, previously known as BYU-approved housing. Apartment complexes must agree to enforce the university's Honor Code and comply with other requirements before signing a contract with BYU.

"There's no sense of vindictiveness," said Justin Elswick, the attorney representing Toronto. "The family's big concern is that because BYU's general policy doesn't require carbon monoxide detectors in BYU-approved housing, it could all happen again. We know of another possible incident at Stadium Terrace in 1996 and at least one other recent occurrence in BYU-approved housing."

BYU has not had a case of carbon monoxide poisoning in campus housing and has an aggressive prevention campaign, university spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said. Maintenance crews respond immediately to any student complaint.

BYU's off-campus contracts require apartment complexes to respond within 24 hours to resident complaints regarding critical repairs like a furnace.

The owner of Stadium Terrace, Devin Durrant, declined to comment because of the litigation. Elswick is a BYU grad working for a law firm — Ascione, Heideman & McKay — that sponsors BYU sports. Durrant is a former BYU basketball star who Elswick said has been courteous.

"This is no personal indictment of him," Elswick said.

Carbon monoxide is a lethal gas. Invisible, odorless and tasteless, it kills without warning. Carbon monoxide kills 500 people in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In April, CO poisoning killed an Ogden man in his apartment. Three police officers who responded to the apartment had to be treated in hyperbaric chambers and missed a week of work.

Toronto was 18 when she moved from Salem, Ore., into apartment 22 at Stadium Terrace, 1960 N. Canyon Rd., to be near a boyfriend and take online courses at BYU. She and her roommates turned on the heat for the first time in mid-September 2003. A half-hour later, the women complained of headaches and turned off the heat.

Toronto disclosed the problem on a form during a subsequent cleaning inspection. A Stadium Terrace employee read the form and signed it, according to the lawsuit.

Toronto and her two roommates returned home from shopping at about 2 a.m. on Oct. 11, 2003, and one turned on the heat for the first time since the cleaning inspection. At 8:30 a.m., one of the women heard a crash, according to the lawsuit. Dizzy, the woman struggled down the hallway to find Toronto lying unconscious on the floor in the bathroom.

Questar and Stadium Terrace ultimately determined the apartment furnace was faulty, according to the suit. The lawsuit says a Questar employee measured the carbon-monoxide level in the apartment at 1,000 parts per million. The state limit is 50 ppm.

Toronto declined to talk about her specific injuries because of the pending lawsuit.

"A lot of people experience fatigue, ongoing headaches, muscle atrophy due to the lack of oxygen, impaired motor functions," she said.

Toronto exhibits several of those symptoms of CO poisoning, speaking articulately but haltingly, with some apparent motor function loss.

Toronto is seeking a minimum of $250,000 in general damages, a minimum of $100,000 in special damages and unspecified punitive damages at a jury trial.

Eslwick said the money is necessary to help Toronto's ongoing rehabilitation and future care. There is concern that if she has children, she'll need extra help caring for them. A jury award also could call more attention to CO poisoning.

"It's preventable," said Toronto, who gives CO detectors out as gifts. They cost between $20 and $50. "It's such a small price to pay for something that causes so much potential long-term damage." Her mother has a message for parents who send their children to college in Provo or anywhere else, a message she'll share today at a press conference.

"Until carbon monoxide detectors are mandated, send one to school with your children."


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com