Heating contractor accused in death is barred from continuing to work in trade

By: - March 23, 2022 11:41 am

A central Iowa man has been permanently barred from working as a heating contractor in Iowa. (Photo by Clark Kauffman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

A central Iowa man has been permanently barred from working as a heating contractor in Iowa after being accused of causing the death of a customer.

Polk County District Judge Michael Huppert has issued an order permanently enjoining Jack Archer of Pleasant Hill from performing any work in the heating and ventilation trade that requires a license.

Huppert has also ordered Archer to pay $35,000 in fines that were previously imposed at the administrative level by the Iowa Plumbing & Mechanical Systems Board. Court records indicate the board fined Archer $1,000 in 2019, and an additional $34,000 in 2021, although Archer never paid the fines. Huppert’s order allows the court to take further action should the fines remain unpaid.

Last fall, the Iowa Plumbing & Mechanical Systems Board sought a court injunction that would restrain Archer from either contracting for, or performing services, in the plumbing, refrigeration or heating and air conditioning trades without first obtaining a license.

In December, Huppert approved the board’s request for an injunction that temporarily barred Archer from performing such work. After Archer failed to respond to the board’s allegations in court, Huppert entered a default judgment against him and imposed the permanent order.

According to court records, for many years Archer held himself out as a professional installer of HVAC units, the term used to describe heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems.

The board alleged Archer could not legally perform such work due to his lack of a license. The board claimed that although Archer was aware of Iowa’s licensure requirements for at least the past five years, he refused to become licensed, despite multiple warnings that he was required to do so.

During that time, the board allegedly received multiple complaints alleging poor workmanship causing injury, damage or both.

“Worst of all,” the board alleged, “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 alleged 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 two prior unresolved complaints, the board fined Archer $34,000.

In seeking the injunction, the board had 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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