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Legal Sea Foods reopens after fatal CO leak

Legal Sea Foods at the Walt Whitman Shops

Legal Sea Foods at the Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station, Nov. 8, 2013. Credit: Yana Paskova

The Huntington Station restaurant closed last month by carbon monoxide poisoning that killed its general manager and sickened dozens has reopened -- with new carbon monoxide detectors -- as a top company official pledged to implement a safety plan that "exceeds" state standards.

But the tragedy that hit Legal Sea Foods on Feb. 22, causing the death of general manager Steven Nelson, 55, of Copiague, will not be forgotten, the chain's president and CEO, Roger Berkowitz, said in a statement detailing the reopening Monday night.

 "We continue to mourn the loss of our general manager Steve Nelson, and we sincerely appreciate the kind thoughts, words of support and condolences expressed for the Nelson family and those affected by the carbon monoxide poisoning," Berkowitz said.

There was a sparse lunch crowd Tuesday at Legal Sea Foods. A manager and the few patrons who trickled out declined to comment.

The restaurant was one of three at the Walt Whitman mall closed in the immediate aftermath of the CO poisoning, caused when, Suffolk County police said, the gas leaked from a basement pipe.

It was the last of the three restaurants to reopen. The Cheesecake Factory reopened the day after the tragedy, while Panera Bread got approval from the Town of Huntington to reopen a few days later.

Nelson was found unconscious locked in a bathroom in the basement, Berkowitz said after the incident.

Officials said more than two dozen employees and rescuers were treated at local hospitals.

Police and town officials later said a faulty flue pipe attached to the heating system was the cause of the poisoning. The fatal leak sparked an outcry from state, county and local lawmakers for the passage of legislation requiring carbon monoxide detectors in commercial buildings.

Berkowitz said in his statement that, since the fatal accident, the chain has installed carbon monoxide detectors "in all our locations."

He also said Legal Sea Foods is hiring "a pre-eminent consulting engineering firm" to conduct "a full safety audit of all our restaurants" -- in order to implement a plan that "exceeds state requirements and building codes." Berkowitz said he has personally "reached out" to lawmakers and fire officials to push for mandatory CO detectors in commercial spaces.

"Carbon monoxide leaks cause tragic events all too often," Berkowitz said. "I will continue to work diligently to ensure that stronger safety measures are put in place."

With Nicole Fuller and Darren Simon

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