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Cops zero in on generator in 3 houseboat deaths

Police carry a small generator away from scene

Police carry a small generator away from scene on a houseboat, where three people died Tuesday night. Police said the victims were overcome by carbon monoxide fumes. (March 24, 2010) Credit: James Carbone

Police are waiting to see whether noxious fumes from a below-deck gasoline generator killed three people found unconscious on a houseboat in Huntington Harbor.

The three victims had come aboard the 38-foot houseboat to prepare an estimate for potential repairs to the vessel, according to relatives.

Police are awaiting toxicology reports for victims Juan Torres, 43, of Huntington Station; Patrick Franklin, 45, of Port Jefferson, and his wife, Susan, 44, who died on the boat Tuesday night.

Torres is the caretaker of the boat, which is registered to Samuel Wood of Huntington Station, police said

It was unclear Wednesday who had placed the portable gas generator - which was below the deck and operating when police arrived - on the boat.

Wood could not be reached for comment.

Police said that when the Franklins did not show up for a meeting, friends of the couple asked another friend to check on them because they had not been heard from for some time.

The friend, whom police identified only as "a Good Samaritan," found the three unconscious after taking a dinghy out to the boat, moored about 200 feet offshore near the intersection of West Shore Road and Margo Lane.

After a 911 call to police at 8:53 p.m., two officers rowed out to the houseboat, police said. There, they found the friend trying to remove Susan Franklin from the boat. Patrick Franklin and Torres were removed from the boat by police.

All three were pronounced dead at Huntington Hospital Tuesday night, police said.

Friends and family of the Franklins gathered in the couple's home Wednesday afternoon and described the pair, who were married for 25 years and had three sons, as generous and welcoming.

"Their door was open to everybody and anybody," said Stephanie Windlow, 23, of Setauket, who often spent time at the Franklin home and is friends with their sons.

A man who answered the door at Torres' home declined to comment. The boat was to be taken to the Suffolk Police Marine Bureau headquarters for investigation, Groneman said. Police said they will test the generator for malfunctions.

"You have to take note; these generators give off toxic fumes. You can't keep them in a closed environment," Groneman said. "Just like you should have a carbon monoxide detector in your house, if they had one of those on board maybe this tragedy would have been averted."

Christopher Laterza, 19, of Port Jefferson, who had been living with the Franklins since 2008 after he had family troubles, said he missed the couple and saw them as surrogate parents who made him feel welcome.

"I called them mom and dad," Laterza said. "They took me in their house and I created a bond with them. They loved me like I was their own son."


Regulations governing houseboats



The Town of Huntington does not allow boats to be used as a permanent residence. Town code prohibits anyone from living on a boat for more than 14 consecutive days.



How to use a generator



  • Never use gas-powered generator indoors.



  • Test your generator regularly.



  • Obey wiring and voltage guidelines.



  • Pay special attention to portable generators.



  • Never plug a portable generator into a household outlet or other home wiring. Instead, use a properly rated extension cord to plug lights and appliances directly into the unit.



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