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Cyanide, other toxic gasses crept through public housing where two died, report shows

A Columbia Police Department report from the day two men were found dead in Allen Benedict Court explains some of the conditions that led up to the deaths.

In the Jan. 17 report, Benedict College police arrived at Building J, apartment J-1, in Allen Benedict Court to do a welfare check on Derrick Caldwell Roper, who had not shown up to work for several days. Roper worked at Benedict College. When they got no answer at the door, a property manager was called to unlock the apartment. Police found Roper unresponsive in the hallway near his bathroom. EMS reported he was dead, according to the police report.

Richland County Coroner Gary Watts announced Monday that 61-year-old Calvin Witherspoon Jr. and Roper, 30, both died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Toxicology testing confirmed the cause of death, Watts said.

Another person at the scene told the authorities and apartment manager that Witherspoon lived in J-3 and had been missing for several days. Entering the apartment, authorities found his body on the bed.

A fire department investigation found high concentrations of “hydrogen, cyanide and carbon monoxide” in the building with the “mass of the concentration coming from Apt. J2,” the report states.

The police report also says that another person born in 1970 was transported from the building on the morning of Jan. 16 “with effects from the gas leaks.”

A person in their 50s who was in Apt. J-2 was taken to the hospital around 4:30 a.m. on the same day the two were found dead. The person had head and back injuries, the report states, but it doesn’t say how the person was injured.

Rodricus Walker, who lived in building G and spoke with The State on the day the complex was evacuated, said he experienced issues with odors, the smell becoming so severe that he became dizzy and had to go to the hospital a couple months ago.

“I had to get up out of there,” Rodricus Walker said.

He kept his windows open to help with the condition, he said.

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