After a thorough investigation of the Nov. 7 explosion at a motel in Los Alamos, investigators have determined the cause of the explosion to be a suicide attempt gone awry.
A 35-year-old man from Tulsa, Oklahoma was occupying the room at the Alamo Motel in which the explosion occurred. He suffered third degree burns on 95 percent of his body and was immediately taken to the Grossman Burn Center in Sherman Oaks. The man was in critical condition until early Friday morning when he died as a result of his injuries.
Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. Public Information Officer Captain Charlie Johnson said investigators initially checked the motel room for leaks in gas pipes, but nothing appeared to be damaged.
“Investigators were able to piece it all together. They were very thorough throughout the investigation,” Johnson said. “It appears that the man turned on the natural gas the night before and left it on overnight, figuring he would go to sleep and not wake up in the morning. To his surprise, the phone rang in the morning, which of course meant that the man was not dead. I’d imagine he assumed he would have asphyxiated himself by the morning, so the phone call was a little shocking.”
The man had released the natural gas by blowing out the pilot light on the stove, Johnson said, allowing the natural gas to leak overnight.
“Apparently, the maid went by to clean the room and smelled a strange odor, but the room was locked, so she proceeded to clean the room next door. In the next room, the odor of natural gasses was very strong, so she went and told the manager of the motel,” Johnson said. “The manager called the man to see if there was a problem in the room. He told the manager that everything was fine.”
After the phone call, Johnson said it appears the man decided to light a cigarette from his bed. The ignition of the cigarette commingled with the natural gasses caused the explosion.
“What’s interesting is that there were a bunch of ignition sources in the room,” Johnson said. “If he had flipped on the light switch, there is a sudden spark that under certain circumstances could have caused the explosion, the same thing with the phone ringing. With the right mix of elements, a number of things in the room could have set the explosion off.”
Johnson said the man’s death brought an end to the investigation.
“The room was left in shambles; the explosion blew out the door and the windows. It didn’t cause major structure damage, but a lot of surface damage,” he said. “What would have happened if he was still alive, the case would have been turned into the District Attorney’s Office for further investigation because of the damage done to the motel; but since he passed away, that won’t happen.”
“Normally we don’t give suicides any credence, but we didn’t know what the situation was at first,” Johnson said. “There were a lot of things going on in his life that just weren’t good. It was a very unfortunate situation.”