NEW YORK » Four elderly people were found dead in a home Friday in an apparent carbon monoxide poisoning after a car was left running in an attached garage, police said.
The victims were 83-year-old Jerry Hugel, his wife, 80-year-old Marie Hugel, 70-year-old Gloria Greco and 76-year-old Walter Vonthadden, police said. The bodies were discovered when a relative of the Hugels went to check on them because they hadn’t answered the phone at their Queens home. Jerry Hugel was found next to a running car in the garage.
Neighbors lined the streets and sidewalks in the suburban Floral Park neighborhood next to Long Island’s Nassau County. Some cried as police officers and firefighters walked around the Cape Cod-style, two-story home.
"They were wonderful people," Helga Harter, a neighbor who had known the couple for decades, said through tears as she stood on a street corner, looking at the home. "They were married for 60 years."
The Hugels had five children, including a son who’s a New York Police Department officer, Harter said. The president of the NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association, Ed Mullins, said members’ thoughts and prayers were with the family.
Harter described the Hugels as a "great family" active in the local German community. She last saw them on Wednesday at a meeting of a Bavarian dancing and cultural organization.
"I’m in shock," Harter said. "It’s the greatest shock of my life."
Jerry Hugel had been the president of the Bavarian group, the Schlierachtaler Stamm, for more than 40 years until 2013, its website and a member said. He and his wife "were the backbone of everything," member Kathy Fetzer said.
Jerry Hugel moved from Germany to the U.S. in his youth, and Marie Hugel was of Austrian descent, she said. They were always ready to take on anything that needed doing for the organization and had passed the traditions on to their children, she said.
"They just held everything together and made sure it was done right," she said.
The husband was found next to the running car in the garage, and the wife was in a kitchen in the basement. The family friend was in a living room on the first floor, and the tenant was on the first floor.
Carbon monoxide, an odorless and colorless gas, is created when some fuels are burned. The deaths come on the heels of other carbon monoxide exposures that killed at least 10 people on the Eastern Seaboard.
A man and his seven children were found dead Monday in Princess Anne, Maryland, where they apparently were poisoned in their sleep while running a generator after a utility cut power to their home. And a woman and her 7-year-old daughter were found poisoned Wednesday in their home in East Orange, New Jersey, where prosecutors said a utility company had shut off power and a gas generator was being used without proper ventilation.
City Councilman Mark Weprin, who represents the area including Floral Park, said he hopes the tragedy sheds light on the importance of having and maintaining carbon monoxide detectors.
"My thoughts and prayers go out to the friends and families of the victims," he said in an emailed statement.
A friend of the Hugels, Elisabeth Hlawaty, said she traveled across the country with the couple to dance competitions. She said Marie Hugel had used a typewriter to help her children write their college papers.
"She was very involved, very family conscious," Hlawaty said. "She loved all of her children."
Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.