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August 25, 2014 10:06 PM

Raising Awareness Through Tragedy

Tea, SD

For all his life, Gary Klinghagen has been in the boat business: selling boats, buying boats, fixing boats.  But for the last two months he's spent just as much time at the local post office as he has replacing parts.

"I go to the mailbox every day and there's always one or two letters even still now," Klinghagen said.

The letters have come from across the state and even from across statelines in the two months since his wife Mollie died. But the envelopes aren't filled with sympathy cards; they are instead filled with inspiring, life-saving messages.

"'Gary, I did not have a CO (carbon monoxide) alarm but now I do. So sorry about Mollie's death, but was a great reminder to all of us to buy one, signed Kay Butler.' I have no idea who this is," Klinghagen said as he read one of the notes he received.

The notes have been pouring into Klinghagen's post office box in Tea since Mollie's death.

Mollie died Father's Day weekend when Klinghagen was out of town. Mollie was going to go on a weekend motorcycle getaway with her friend but she never answered the door.

"After knocking on the door and discovering she wasn't answering the door, they saw smoke coming from the attic vents of the roof," Klinghagen said.

The wiring above the bedroom closet had been smoldering all night. The smoke stayed in the attic, so the smoke alarms never woke Mollie up, but carbon monoxide seeped into the rooms below.

"She had been breathing carbon monoxide fumes all night because the fire was contained to the attic," Klinghagen said.

The Klinghagens didn't have a carbon monoxide detector and Mollie Klinghagen died at the age of 54.

"Absolutely, if we would have had one up there, she would have woke up and got out of there," Klinghagen said.

Just days after Mollie's death, Klinghagen and Mollie's sister decided to put a message in her obituary. Instead of gifts, they asked that everyone buy a carbon monoxide detector for their home and send Gary the receipt to prove it.

"She always looked at the bright side of everything so we have to carry that on, and what can we do to keep that from happening again," Klinghagen said.

Klinghagen has been getting receipts, notes and cards for months. Mollie's employer - U.S. Bank - even bought carbon monoxide detectors for every employee who didn't have one.

"There are wonderful stories in there about how they knew Mollie, or maybe they didn't, and a wonderful person she was and they're so glad that we're doing something to save somebody else's life," Klinghagen said.

Klinghagen and Mollie's sister are also working on setting up a carbon monoxide nonprofit foundation in South Dakota in an effort to raise awareness and hand out CO detectors to those who need them.

"We really feel we're making an impact and it really helps a lot with the healing," Klinghagen said.

These days the boat repairman is not only working to keep boats on the water, but also to save lives through his wife's death.

"This is a rough ordeal to lose your wife and have a fire in your house. I can't imagine anything worse. So we want to keep this from happening to someone else," Klinghagen said.

Klinghagen has set up a website with information about Mollie's death and the effort to raise awareness about carbon monoxide. To visit the site, click here.

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