Three men and a pregnant woman died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in a one-bedroom Van Nuys apartment, police said Saturday.
A fourth man, who was hospitalized in critical condition, also was overcome by fumes from a malfunctioning heater vent, police said.
All five were Vietnamese refugees and at least two of the men, both gardeners, had been sending money to wives and children in their native country, friends said.
They were discovered by a neighbor who came by about noon and peered in the window of the second-floor apartment at 8751 Langdon Ave. when no one answered the door. She saw one of the victims dead on a sofa-bed and "came downstairs, hysterical, telling me to come quick," said apartment manager Jay Kurtz.
"The smell of gas was terrible," the woman who saw the bodies said through an interpreter.
The dead men were identified by the Los Angeles County coroner's office as Tien Trinh, 35, Nga Bui, 30, and Di Tran, 22. The woman was Phuong Tran, 23.
The survivor, whose name was not released, remained hospitalized in critical condition late Saturday.
Vietnamese friends who gathered outside the apartment in the 36-unit complex said that besides the dead couple and another man who shared the apartment, at least one victim was a relative of the pregnant woman who was just visiting them for one night.
All five had come from Vietnam about six years ago, friends said, and one or two had lived in Texas and Utah before moving to Los Angeles. One of the dead men and the hospitalized man were supporting wives and children in Vietnam. One had three children, ages 8 to 14.
"Life right now was very precious for them, you know?" said one friend, Detu Nean of North Hollywood. "With (one of the men), everything he earned every day was just for his family, and his hope to return to his own country for them."
Southern California Gas Co. spokesman Ralph Cohen said the roof vent to the wall heater in the apartment had become dislodged. With no place for the exhaust to go, he said, soot and carbon monoxide were forced back into the apartment.
Cohen said rain could not have dislodged the vent, that something would have had to have struck it, and gas company as well as city building and safety inspectors were out Saturday checking every vent in the complex.
He added that gas company inspectors found a disconnected smoke detector in the apartment and that if the detector had been operating, "there was enough soot on the wall that it should have set it off." Kurtz said the tenants had not complained of any problems in the apartment.
The visiting relative "just came here one night," Nean said. "(The man spent) one night here, and then (he is) dead."
Word seemed to spread quickly in the Vietnamese community. Within a few hours, about a dozen acquaintances came from as far away as Ventura, waiting around the swimming pool below the small apartment while police and coroner's officials finished their work.
An estimated 20 Vietnamese families live in the stucco garden complex.
At least one of the dead men had been a fisherman in Vietnam, Nean said. In their spare hours here, they occupied themselves watching rented videos and listening to music, he said.
"All the money they earned and all the joy and happiness among the whole small community was shared," Nean said. Of one victim, he added, "All of his life was from, for and to his family."