State wins injunction against furnace repairman implicated in death

By: - December 23, 2021 8:00 am

A furnace. (Photo by Clark Kauffman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The state of Iowa has been granted an injunction against an unlicensed heating contractor accused of causing the death of a customer.

Earlier this fall, the Iowa Plumbing & Mechanical Systems Board sought a court injunction that would restrain 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 has also sought a court order requiring Archer to pay civil penalties that were levied against him in the past.

Polk County District Court Judge Michael D. Huppert recently approved the request for a temporary injunction, enjoining Archer from “engaging in the unlicensed practice of the HVAC trade or otherwise contracting for and performing any work in the HVAC trade that must be performed by a licensed person.”

The junction shall remain in place until a final order is issued in the case, Huppert ruled.

Court records indicate Archer’s wife was served with notice of the state’s action last month, but he has yet to make an appearance in the case and has not filed a response to the state’s allegations.

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.

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.”

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.”

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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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