Authorities have just confirmed that the deaths of a young couple and their cats in their Berkeley apartment nearly two weeks ago was the result of “acute carbon monoxide intoxication.”
The Berkeley Police Department has described the case as a “tragic accident.”
Roger Hanna Morash, 35, and Valerie Morash 32, were found dead Jan. 23 in their apartment at 3028 Deakin St. Their two Singapura cats, Minsky and Malloc, were also dead.
Police have not identified the source of the carbon monoxide, and say further testing will need to be done.
BPD said in a prepared statement Friday that it “took some time to determine the cause – autopsy findings, toxicology reports, necropsy, and other tests – however; our goal was to provide the family of the decedents with the most accurate answers regarding the death of their loved ones.”
Police investigators collected “various items within the apartment to test for toxins” but none were found by the state’s Public Health Department.
Police said the bodies of the couple’s cats also were examined, through necropsies, and the cats were also found to have died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Police said Friday detectives are “still trying to identify the specific source of the carbon monoxide.”
In the past week, investigators reached out to the property’s landlord “to coordinate tests and inspections” in the couple’s apartment, and attempted to arrange for the building, which has four units, to be vacant at the time of their work.
“Investigators did not order anyone to evacuate their apartments. The proposed tests have been cancelled while the Department works through the residents’ concerns,” police said. “Investigators are focused on trying to determine the source of the carbon monoxide in order to provide peace of mind to the families and residents of the building.”
ABC 7 reported Thursday at 11 p.m. that residents had been ordered to evacuate the building, but BPD said the tests had already been called off at the time that report went live.
BPD Lt. Dan Montgomery said there are several appliances to test and rule out, and more than one theory about the source of the carbon monoxide. But he said he could not specify further due to the ongoing investigation.
“The purpose of the tests is to give everybody peace of mind and find out,” he said Friday.
There has been some confusion about the role carbon monoxide may have played in the couple’s deaths because police initially said the BFD hazmat team and PG&E were called to the scene to measure for unsafe levels of gas or other problems, but found none.
PG&E spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian said earlier this week that “PG&E participated in the initial investigation and it was determined that this was not a gas-related event.”
Sarkissian also said she could not confirm that the building was heated by gas, due to privacy laws, and could not say whether there had been a history of complaints or calls to the property related to carbon monoxide. She said the building owner or Berkeley Fire Department might have further information.
But medical tests ultimately showed toxic levels of the gas to be the cause of death, police said Friday. The discrepancy could be related to the fact that the couple’s bodies likely were found more than 24 hours after they died, and carbon monoxide levels in the apartment could have changed by the time first responders got to the scene. In its statement, BPD said it “extends our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Roger and Valerie Morash.”
The department thanked the Alameda County coroner’s office, the state Public Health Department’s Microbial Diseases and Pathogen Section, PG&E, Berkeley City Animal Care Services, and the Berkeley Fire Department “for their help in the investigation.”
Stay tuned to Berkeleyside for continuing coverage.