Nation & World

Gas leak likely killed Iowa family vacationing in Mexico

Officials say water heater in rented condo was leaky

Kevin Wayne Sharp, 41, his wife, Amy Marie Sharp, 38, and their kids, Sterling Wayne Sharp, 12, and Adrianna Marie Sharp, 7, were found dead in a rented condo in Tulum, Mexico. (Undated photo from Facebook)
Kevin Wayne Sharp, 41, his wife, Amy Marie Sharp, 38, and their kids, Sterling Wayne Sharp, 12, and Adrianna Marie Sharp, 7, were found dead in a rented condo in Tulum, Mexico. (Undated photo from Facebook)
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The Sharp family planned a week’s vacation on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, but may have not survived longer than the first day when, Mexican authorities said Monday, the four succumbed to natural gas likely from a leaky water heater inside their rented condominium.

The deaths of the Sharps — Kevin Wayne Sharp, 41; Amy Marie Sharp, 38; Sterling Wayne Sharp, 12, and Adrianna Marie Sharp, 7 — have stunned their hometown of Creston, west of Osceola off Highway 34. Hundreds turned out Sunday evening for a candlelight vigil.

“I know there’s a lot of young people here, and they have questions about why does stuff like this happen,” said the Rev. Delores Doench, according to an article in the Creston News Advertiser. “We don’t have an answer. All we know is that God is with us and will help us get through this.”

The Sharp family arrived March 14 in Mexico, planning to rent a condo near the sandswept community of Tulum on the Yucatan Peninsula. They were expected to return to Iowa last Wednesday.

But friends and family grew worried when the family did not post vacation photos on social media, or call to say they were returning.

The revelation Monday that a leaky water heater was to blame for the deaths was a step closer to answering a question that has loomed over the community: How did this happen?

Quintana Roo state prosecutor Miguel Angel Pech said that the water heater “was leaking gas, maybe from use or lack of maintenance,” according to the Associated Press. The office previously said foul play was not a factor.

“Any violent act or suicide has been discounted,” authorities had said.

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Photos published by the prosecutor’s office showed firemen in respirators and other workers in anti-contamination suits examining gas lines at the condo.

The Sharp family appeared to have been dead for 36 to 48 hours when they were discovered Friday, Mexican authorities said. Friends said, though, said the family hadn’t been heard from since they initially arrived in Mexico.

Mexican authorities have coordinated with U.S. officials in Mexico to bring the bodies of the Sharp family home, said Jana Weland, Amy Sharp’s cousin.

“It’s been very stressful but the consulate’s been good about helping us,” Weland told the Des Moines Register. “Even the funeral home in Mexico has been good at helping.”

She said a funeral is being planned at Southwestern Community College in Creston.

“Life is not going to be the same without her,” Beth Fry, Amy Sharp’s mother, said Friday, according to the Associated Press. “Half my family is gone.”

The condo the family rented was at Tao, according to the attorney general, near Akumal, a tourist-friendly beachfront community.

The family, who were on their second trip to Mexico, had planned to meet up with some friends at a water park, Weland told ABC News.

But “they never showed up at that water park to meet them,” Weland said.

In fact, the Sharps’ relatives hadn’t heard anything from Kevin or Amy Sharp since the day they arrived in Mexico.

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Natural gas is an odorless gas to which utilities add a chemical that smells like rotten eggs. If not for the smell, someone may not even be aware of a gas leak.

Even with the telltale smell, though, a rapid enough leak could render its victims unconscious by supplanting the oxygen supply, eventually asphyxiating them.

Kevin Sharp was a salesman for the beer distributor Southwest Distributing Co., and Amy was a dental-claims specialist for Principal Financial in Des Moines. They had been married for more than 16 years, according to the AP.

Family members described Adrianna as the “fashion stylist” who “ruled that family.” Her brother was an athlete who played baseball, swam and hunted.

Kevin Sharp was also an avid stock-car racer, known as “the Sharpshooter” in the local scene, and often competed in events in his neighboring county.

The Washington Post, the Creston News Advertiser and the Des Moines Register contributed.

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