The father of a University of Denver graduate student who died from carbon monoxide poisoning tearfully brought her ashes to the Capitol Tuesday morning, hoping to persuade lawmakers to approve a bill that would require carbon monoxide detectors in new homes and rental properties.
Don Johnson held up a heart-shaped urn containing the ashes of his daughter, Lauren, saying that was all he had left of her.
"She had incredible gifts to give to the world. Our family has lost so much. This is my daughter today," said Johnson as he fought back tears. "That's all that's left of her," Johnson said as he now breaks down for several seconds. "This is all that's left. Don't you dare not pass this bill. Please," Johnson said, crying.
He also held up a $20 bill, saying that's all it would have cost for a carbon monoxide detector that could've saved her life.
"What's the difference? There it is. Twenty bucks. Twenty bucks," he said.
Lauren, a 23-year-old student at the University of Denver, died last week at an apartment complex across from campus. There were no carbon monoxide detectors at her complex.
"She was going to do great things," Johnson said, holding up his daughter's ashes.
Johnson's mother also delivered an emotionally charged testimonial. "The contents of this bag, contain a fraction of the cards... with expressions of sympathy and love," she said as she fought back tears and held her hand over a paper bag full of cards.
The bill is named after the Lofgrens, a Denver family of four who were found dead in an Aspen-area vacation home with high levels of carbon monoxide. Parker Lofgren, 39, a founding partner of investment bank St. Charles Capital, his wife, Caroline, 42, and their two children, Owen, 10, and Sophie, 8, were found dead at a home over the Thanksgiving weekend. Friends meeting the family found them.
Maria Dempsey flew in from the East Coast to testify on behalf of her sister, Caroline.
"We had my sister who was up in heaven saying to us, 'Get there!'" Dempsey said.
A House Business Affairs Committee delayed action on the bill, saying there was no estimate of how much the program would cost.
Sen. Chris Romer believes this bill has such widespread support it could be on the governor's desk ready to sign in seven to 10 days.
Last year, a similar bill was killed during the legislative process because of questions about who would enforce it and whether homebuilders and apartment owners could be held responsible if the equipment failed.
This year's bill has gained the support of the state Board of Realtors and a group representing apartment owners after lawmakers decided to leave it to local governments to enforce it. Homebuilders and apartment owners wouldn't be responsible if the equipment malfunctioned. Both groups, who opposed last year's bill, said they could support the bill if they were protected.
Johnson said even though he ardently supports the bill, he hopes families don't wait for the law.
"I hope all of you, as our own family has done, will go out and buy a carbon monoxide detector right now," Johnson said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 500 people are killed each year in the United States because of carbon monoxide poisoning. It can be caused by a malfunctioning furnace, water heater or stove, or by objects blocking a flue.
Investigators believe Johnson died because of a faulty or damaged flue, which was next to her third-floor apartment.
In the Lofgren case, technicians found that a combination of errors in the home's mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems led to extreme levels of carbon monoxide in the house.
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