Heating system at center of probe into carbon monoxide leak at New York mall restaurant

The Associated Press

Fire personnel respond to a possible case of carbon monoxide poisoning at the Legal Seafoods at the Walt Whitman Mall in Huntington, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. Police say a 55-year-old restaurant manager has died and more than two dozen others were taken to hospitals after being overcome by carbon monoxide at the New York mall. A Suffolk County police spokesman identified the man who died Saturday as Steven Nelson. The 28 others affected by carbon monoxide were taken to area hospitals. (AP Photo/Newsday, Steve Silverman) by Steve Silverman

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HUNTINGTON STATION, N.Y. (AP) — Officials investigating a carbon monoxide leak at a New York mall are concentrating on the heating system of the restaurant where a manager was found dead by police responding to an unrelated call.

More than two dozen other people were sent to hospitals following the leak Saturday inside the Legal Sea Foods restaurant at the Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station on Long Island.

All of those affected by the fumes were restaurant employees, police or ambulance workers, said Suffolk County Police Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick.

"Right now, we are inspecting the heating system, and this incident seems to be confined to the basement area," Fitzpatrick said. "It does not appear to have made it in the area of the restaurant where the customers were."

Police identified the manager who died as 55-year-old Steven Nelson. The medical examiner will determine the cause of his death, Fitzpatrick said.

He said the initial call to police came shortly after 6 p.m. about a woman who had fallen and hit her head in the basement of the restaurant.

Rescue workers who arrived at the scene started to feel lightheaded and nauseated and suspected a carbon monoxide leak, Fitzpatrick said.

Police evacuated the restaurant and found Nelson, of Copiague, unconscious in the basement.

The woman who fell was taken to Huntington Hospital, as was Nelson, who was pronounced dead there. There was no immediate word on the woman's condition.

Authorities said 27 people were taken to five area hospitals. Fitzpatrick said none appeared to have life-threatening injuries. WABC-TV reported that all but a handful of patients had been treated and released.

Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless and can lead to death by suffocation.

Two other restaurants, Panera Bread and The Cheesecake Factory, were evacuated as a precaution even as the mall remained open.

"They told us to leave because of a gas leak," Cheesecake Factory patron Kathy Sella said. "I didn't want to blow up or anything like that. We were at the bar having a glass of wine and then, one of the waitresses, she said you have to leave."

The Walt Whitman Shops, located about 35 miles east of New York City, has more than 80 stores, including Bloomingdale's, Lord & Taylor, Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue.

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