State seeks injunction to stop furnace repairman implicated in customer’s death

By: - November 11, 2021 12:26 pm

The state of Iowa says an unlicensed heating contractor who faces $35,000 in fines has caused the death of a customer. (Photo by Clark Kauffman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The state of Iowa is going to court to stop an unlicensed heating contractor from continuing to ply his trade in central Iowa, alleging his work has caused the death of a customer.

The Iowa Plumbing & Mechanical Systems Board is seeking a court injunction restraining Jack Archer of Pleasant Hill from either contracting for, or performing services, in the plumbing, refrigeration or heating and air conditioning trades without first obtaining a license.

The board is also seeking an order requiring Archer to pay civil penalties levied against him in the past.

According to the lawsuit, for many years Archer has held himself out as a professional installer of HVAC units, the term used to describe heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. At times, Archer has contracted directly with customers, but has also performed work as an employee or contractor working for separate businesses.

The board alleges Archer cannot legally do such work due to the lack of a license. The board claims that although Archer has been aware of Iowa’s licensure requirements for at least the past five years, he has refused to become licensed, despite multiple warnings that he is required to do so.

Archer, the board says, “has ignored and never paid previous administrative penalties while continuing to work brazenly without a license.” During that time, the board has allegedly received multiple complaints alleging “poor workmanship causing injury, damage or both.”

“Worst of all,” the board alleges, “in 2019, an Ankeny townhome resident passed away after defendant Archer performed work on the furnace in the townhome. The decedent’s autopsy report indicated the cause of death was acute carbon monoxide toxicity.”

In seeking an injunction, the board says it has exercised all of its available administrative options, including the imposition of substantial civil penalties, but Archer “refuses to listen.”

Complaints date back to 2016

According to the board, it first fielded a complaint about Archer’s lack of license in June 2016. After three years, the case was resolved with an order imposing a $1,000 civil penalty, which remains unpaid.

In July 2019, board received a complaint alleging that in June of that year Archer was hired to install a central air conditioning unit and furnace at an address on Watrous Avenue in Des Moines.

The complaint alleged Archer’s work was substandard and left the property in a dangerous condition. Archer allegedly admitted he did not complete the job, telling board investigators it was because the property owner refused to pay for all the work needed to properly complete the job. He allegedly admitted to investigators that he did not obtain the required city permits prior to beginning the work.

Archer named in wrongful death case

In early 2020, Archer performed furnace work at a property located on Guthrie Avenue in Des Moines. When a city inspector examined the work, he found that the joints on the furnace’s exhaust pipe were so loose they fell apart in his hands due to not being sealed and glued in place.

In its petition to the court, the board notes that furnace exhaust, if not properly routed outdoors and vented, can infiltrate the occupied space of a building and cause injury or death to anyone inside.

The city inspector subsequently filed a complaint with the board about Archer’s work on the Watrous Avenue job. During its investigation, the board learned from a contractor that Archer had been doing HVAC work without a license for about 40 years.

By that time, the board alleges, another complaint has been made about work done by Archer that “tragically resulted in an Iowan’s death from acute carbon monoxide toxicity.”

The board alleges that on Jan. 31, 2019, a landlord dispatched Archer to a townhome in Ankeny in response to a tenant’s complaint that the heat was not working. Archer worked on the furnace and a few days later, on Feb. 3, the 42-year-old tenant, Kevin Strah, was found dead inside the home, kneeling by his bed. An autopsy report indicated he died from acute carbon monoxide toxicity.

Strah’s death resulted in a wrongful death lawsuit naming Archer as a defendant, and also generated another complaint to the board. As part of its investigation, the board obtained a transcript of a deposition Archer gave under oath in the wrongful death case.

According to the board, Archer testified that he believed the licensing program the board administers is not for the protection of the public and is simply a revenue-generating mechanism for the state.

The wrongful death case was settled out of court prior to trial, but in response to the complaint about work done at Strah’s home, and in response to the two prior unresolved complaints, the board fined Archer a total of $34,000 in March of this year.

In seeking an injunction, the board has told the court that “Archer’s actions and words both indicate he will not listen to the board no matter how many dollars in fines it assesses, and no matter how sternly the Board words its communications and orders … Public health, safety, and welfare are at stake.”

Archer has yet to file a response to the board’s court filing. The Iowa Capital Dispatch was unable reach him for comment Thursday.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for Nov. 16.

 

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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