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Faulty furnace the possible source of Bemidji carbon monoxide poisoning

BEMIDJO -- Authorities are trying to determine the source of carbon monoxide that killed a Bemidji-area woman and sickened seven other people, including three sheriff's deputies.

When authorities arrived at the house in Frohn Township east of Bemidji, they found Coleen Jennings, 50, dead and three others seriously ill from apparent carbon monoxide poisoning. Those three -- Emma Jennings, 24; Vincent Beyl, 57; and Christopher Crew, 30 -- were flown to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, which has a hyperbaric chamber to remove carbon monoxide from a patient's body.

Crew's condition was changed from critical to serious Sunday while Beyl and Emma Jennings were in satisfactory condition, hospital spokeswoman Christine Hill said.

Coleen Jennings' mother, Joanne Donald of Tower, said she got a call from her grandson when he arrived home Saturday morning saying he couldn't find his mother and everyone was unconscious.

"Call 911," Donald recalled telling him. "Get out of there and get some fresh air before you get sick, too."

Donald's grandson, Gary Jennings, 20, and three Beltrami County sheriff's deputies went to North Country Regional Hospital in Bemidji after being in the house only briefly. The deputies were treated and released. Gary Jennings was released Saturday night, a nursing supervisor said.

Donald said authorities told her that the carbon monoxide apparently came from a malfunctioning furnace. Beryl Wernberg, emergency management director for Beltrami County, said on Sunday that the source of the carbon monoxide was still under investigation.

"It's just such a tragedy," Donald, 73, said. "We are just trying to cope. We will be for a long time."

Her daughter had complained for days about being tired and nauseous, but Donald said, "We just figured it was the flu shots. ... We never once suspected it was carbon monoxide. The problem probably peaked on Friday night."

Donald said she felt lucky her grandson had spent the night at a friend's house.

"What would have happened if nobody came to the house in the morning?" she wondered.

Gary Jennings said, "It's kind of rough, but everyone's getting through it."

Coleen Jennings was an administrative assistant to the dean of College of Health Sciences and Human Ecology at Bemidji State University, said Rose Jones, a university spokeswoman. She had worked at the school for 26 years.