SC city fined $11,000 after 2 housing project residents die

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The Columbia Housing Authority was fined just under $11,000 after pleading guilty Wednesday to 24 safety violations found after two residents died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a poorly maintained heater.

One code violation was dropped as city officials appeared in court and they asked for a jury trial on one other violation, WLTX-TV reported.

The violations included broken smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers as well as failing to do routine maintenance.

Calvin Witherspoon Jr., 62, and Derrick Roper, 31, died in separate units in the same building in January 2019 at Allen Benedict Court in Columbia.

Investigators immediately inspected all 244 of the units at the 80-year-old complex and found hundreds of problems missed as employees in the Housing Authority's maintenance department either retired or left and weren't replaced, authorities said.

The complex was shut down days later and will be razed this year.

Prosecutors said they could not file criminal charges because South Carolina lacks a criminal negligence law.

The city still faces lawsuits from the families of the dead men and the residents of the complex.

Former Columbia Mayor Bob Coble represented the city in court and said the pleas shows officials took responsibility.

“We are so sorry this happened — the tragic deaths, displacements — and what we have to do now is make improvements and move forward," Coble said.