Carbon monoxide blamed in pair’s death
“It was just an unfortunate accident. That’s all there really is to say,” Jeff Folk, 44, of Fort Atkinson said Sunday.
Folk was cleaning items from the basement garage of the tri-level apartment at 10645 N. Bay Shore Lane, where his father, James P. Folk, 68, and his father’s partner, Joan R. Leith, 65, were found dead Saturday afternoon.
Authorities suspect carbon monoxide poisoning in the deaths. The Rock County Sheriff’s Office said the couple might have left their minivan running overnight in their attached garage after they had returned from an outing.
Authorities said the ignition switch on the minivan had been left on and the battery was dead. Officials still are investigating the deaths, and a cause has not yet been determined.
Jeff Folk suggested the minivan could have been left running accidentally. He said his father had fought cancer for more than a year and that the illness had taken a toll on his memory.
Folk’s daughter, Susan Folk, 45, of Janesville said she’s still in shock over the deaths.
“I don’t have to relive it to see it all over again. It’ll never leave me,” she said.
Susan Folk said she had brought spare keys to the apartment at 2 p.m. Saturday after relatives told her they couldn’t rouse Folk and Leith with phone calls or by knocking on doors.
Susan Folk said when she, her sister and a nephew went into the apartment, they smelled a heavy odor of exhaust. She went to the third floor of the apartment and found Folk unconscious in a bedroom. Her nephew found Leith lying unconscious on the floor of the bathroom.
The Rock County Sheriff’s Office said when authorities came to the apartment at 2:19 p.m. Saturday they found Folk and Leith dead and a high level of carbon monoxide throughout the apartment.
“The best we can figure was their time of death was between 5 and 7 a.m. (Saturday). The coroners said with carbon monoxide, it’s hard to tell,” Susan Folk said.
Fire departments responding to the scene evacuated occupants from all eight of the adjoining units at the apartment complex. The couple’s apartment is an end unit on the south side of the building.
Alice VanDenLangenberg, 65, lives in the unit next door with her husband, her daughter and her daughter’s son. She said they hadn’t heard a vehicle running in the garage underneath Folk and Leith’s apartment Friday, and they hadn’t noticed an exhaust smell until emergency crews arrived Saturday.
“As soon as they opened the house and the garage up, you could smell nothing but gasoline,” she said.
Emergency crews ventilated the apartment complex and treated seven residents for carbon monoxide poisoning, but authorities said none were transported for injuries Saturday.
VanDenLangenberg said her daughter and her grandson had been ill in the hours leading up to Saturday afternoon.
“They were nauseous and sick to their stomachs, like they had the flu,” she said.
VanDenLangenberg said her daughter and her grandson later were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning at a Milwaukee hospital and were released Sunday afternoon.
It’s unclear if any other residents at the apartment later were hospitalized.
VanDenLangenberg said she knew Folk and Leith as quiet, respectable people.
“We’d visit with them at the (neighborhood) pool and when they were grilling out. This is just sad,” she said.
Susan Folk said her father and Leith had been a couple for several years and were engaged for three years.
“They just hadn’t set a wedding date yet,” she said.
Folk was a retired supervisor at General Motors in Janesville, and Leith was a retired nurse’s assistant at Mercy Hospital in Janesville. The couple had just returned to Wisconsin from their winter home in Punta Gorda, Fla., a few weeks earlier.
“They were such a happy couple,” Susan Folk said. “They just loved life and were living it to the fullest.”