New timeline indicates Layton parents of 2 young girls did all they could to prevent deaths
SALT LAKE CITY — One toxic gas, two dead little girls and a trio of frustrating smokescreens are inherent in a case that will play out in a federal courtroom beginning Friday, when a former pesticide applicator and the company he worked for have an initial appearance on separate three-count indictments.
Emergency responders are still shaking off the grief from the series of events that first began to unfold more than year ago on a quiet street in Layton. These events baffled police, firefighters and health department employees as they tried to uncover what led to the sudden hospitalization and death of a 4-year-old girl one day, and the hospitalization of her little sister the next.
New information shows how the mother appears to have done everything she possibly could to solve the puzzle of what was occurring at her home — and still, it didn't work.
What investigators believe and federal prosecutors now allege is that Coleman Nocks, 63, improperly applied Fumitoxin around the home where Rebecca Kay Toone, 4, and her sister, Rachel Ana Toone, 15 months, lived.
He and the company he worked for — Bugman Pest and Lawn Inc. — each have been charged with three counts of unlawful use of a registered pesticide stemming from the Toone tragedy and two other instances where investigators say Fumitoxin pellets were applied around homes in a manner "inconsistent with labeling."
The deaths of those two girls three days apart still resonate with public safety workers who had to piece together a puzzle that grew more complex with each passing hour — and the lessons learned are now being presented to anyone who will give one public health employee a listening ear.
"It was an impossible situation for everyone involved," said Dennis Keith, who is the bureau manager over emergency response and waste management with the Davis County Health Department. "What I told that family is I was going to do the best I could to educate people about this story and this incident to make sure this never happens again."
Keith was one of the presenters at a recent workshop at the state Department of Environmental Quality, where he and a state agriculture employee walked the audience through the timeline of the Layton Fumitoxen event.
It included information that hadn't been publicly released before. It's information designed to help those vested with safeguarding public health and safety realize that responses are more than just about keeping people on their toes — sometimes you have to get up on them and reach for the improbable.
It was the morning of Feb. 5 when Nocks showed up at the Toone residence to apply the Fumitoxin pellets to rid the area of an infestation of voles, small rodents that burrow in the ground.
Keith said federal restrictions in place at the time prohibited the placement of the pellets within 15 feet of an occupied residence. While 10 to 20 pellets about the size of a pencil eraser are recommended per burrow, the timeline draws on information from the company's invoice that says 1.2 pounds — or 907 pellets — were placed under a back-filled front porch pad and adjacent area. Fumitoxin is 55 percent aluminum phosphide, which reacts with water to produce phosphine gas, which is highly deadly and strictly regulated when used as a pesticide.
Five pellets, for example, produce 25 parts per million of phosphine gas, and it becomes "immediately dangerous to life or health" at 50 parts per million. It has since been banned by the Environmental Protection Agency for residential use and buffer zones have been expanded for other non-residential buildings that could be occupied by people or animals.
Fumitoxin has a garlicky or decaying fish smell. The girls' mother noticed the odor that same morning and questioned the applicator, and according to the timeline, was told it wasn't a problem, that it was "phosgene" gas that dissipates in the air.
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