Two die in Clements from carbon monoxide poisoning

The exterior of the Clements Stampede Rodeo grounds is seen on Monday, Sept. 19, 2011. Richard Leroy Kovacs and his 14-year-old granddaughter, Jordan Kovacs, died Sunday at the rodeo grounds after inhaling carbon monoxide fumes while barbecuing in their horse trailer.

Richard Leroy Kovacs, 56, and Jordan Kovacs, 14, had been barbecuing in a horse trailer at the Clements Stampede Rodeo grounds when they breathed deadly amounts of the poisonous gas, said Deputy Les Garcia, spokesperson for the San Joaquin Sheriff’s Department.

There is no official time of death for the two because emergency workers believe it could’ve taken place the day before, said Dave Ingrum, chief of the Clements Rural County Fire Protection District.

“The two were last seen Saturday evening,” he said. “We received calls after people noticed other trailers were leaving the rodeo grounds and theirs had not.”

Emergency crews responded to the rodeo after receiving calls for two cardiac arrests at 4:46 p.m., Ingrum said.

“It’s very abnormal to have a call for two simultaneous heart attacks,” he said.

Four officials from the Clements Rural County Fire Protection District responded to the scene, Ingrum said. None of them experienced respiratory problems because the trailer had been aired out by the time they arrived, he said.

The two victims were pronounced dead at the scene. There was no initial evidence of alcohol playing a role in the deaths, Ingrum said.

“Once we realized there was nothing we could do for them, we backed off and set up a perimeter and handed the investigation off to the Sheriff’s department,” Ingram said.

No evidence of foul play was found by investigators, Garcia said.

The California Gymkhana Association was hosting an event during the weekend at the rodeo grounds, according to the group’s website. Officials for the association did not return calls seeking comment on the accident. The weekend’s events featured agility courses such as the Figure 8 Stake, Quadrangle and Speed Barrels, according to the association’s website.

The last posting on Jordan Kovacs’ public Facebook page read that she was excited for the horse show in Clements and that she was bringing her horses, Dixie and Victor, to the show.

“I wish tomarrow (sic) was already here,” read the last posting, made on Sept. 15 at 4:52 p.m.

No information about Richard Leroy Kovacs’ occupation or life was available to the News-Sentinel as of press time Monday.

The poisoning from a charcoal grill took place in a 30-foot, gooseneck trailer with stalls for horses towards its back, Ingrum said. No animals were inside the trailer, according to officials.

“A lot of the nicer trailers have a living quarters towards the front where people commonly sleep,” he said.

At the Clements firehouse, Ingrum hosted a press conference Monday afternoon stressing the importance of installing carbon monoxide detectors in residences and inhabited dwellings.

“Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is the leading cause of accidental poisoning in this country,” Ingrum said.

Although a state law enacted July 1, 2011 mandates single-family homes have a carbon monoxide alarm, Ingrum said many people do not consider their importance.

“Unfortunately it’s not until something tragic like this happen that people take it to heart,” Ingrum said.

Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at jordang@lodinews.com.

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