Chief: Two carbon-monoxide deaths are 'stupid' negligence

Smart International Grocery on West Chester Pike where Upper Darby police allegedly found two people dead from possible carbon monoxide on Friday morning April 29, 2011. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)

Two men were found dead this morning of apparent carbon monoxide poisoning in their Upper Darby apartment.

Police made the grim discovery around 8 a.m. this morning in the two-story apartment, which sits atop the Smart International Grocery Store on West Chester Pike and is across the street from the police department.

"Right now, we got it as a homicide investigation," said Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood.

Preliminary investigation shows the owner or the manager of the building failed to pay his electric bill, Chitwood said. The electric was turned off, and he brought a generator into the building, Chitwood added. The generator apparently led carbon monoxide to build up inside the brick-faced building.

Firefighters and police are on the scene now. Emergency workers have thrown open all the windows and doors to ventilate the building, and two large fans are blowing fresh air inside.  

Chitwood is expected to release more details shortly.

UPDATE, 11:25 a.m.: Police identified one victim of the poisoning as Ernesto Huerta, 58, who owns Pinky's Cafe at 18th and South streets in South Philly. A relative found Huerta this morning collapsed on his bathroom floor and alerted authorities.

Chitwood backed off his earlier characterization of the case as a homicide investigation, but stressed that negligence was at play, and criminal charges - possibly a manslaughter charge - could result once autopsy results come in.  "This is really stupid, bringing in a generator into a locked environment and leaving it running 12 hours. There's no ventilation, there's no nothing," he said. "Had there been 10 people in that place, 10 people would be dead."

Chitwood said the tenants who rented the grocery on the first-floor set up a generator last night and left it running overnight. The men who died on the second-floor rented separate apartments; the second victim remains unidentified.

Emergency workers remain on the scene, preparing to remove the victims' bodies.