Police: Water Heater Issue Blamed for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning That Killed Family of 4

May 13, 2019 Updated: June 22, 2019

The family of four who was found dead due to carbon monoxide poisoning had recently installed a water heater that was leaking gas at high levels, according to police.

Gabe Reitter III, his wife Jennifer, and their children Gabe IV and Grace, along with their three dogs were found dead at their home in Ohio on May 2, when police responded to their home for a welfare check. The four family members were found in separate rooms, such as on their beds or in the bathrooms, police said in a statement (pdf).

According to police, the last time the family was contacted was on the evening on April 29, where all members of the family complained about being unwell. Moreover, the daughter’s school was notified that she would not attend due to illness.

The cause of death according to a preliminary report by the Montgomery County Coroner was listed as carbon monoxide saturation, which could be changed to carbon monoxide intoxication after further testing.

Police said first responders had to air out the property when they arrived in order to safely enter the property for a search. They said testing of carbon monoxide levels show that readings were between 999 and 1200 parts per million. The property did not have carbon monoxide detectors.

People can start experiencing more noticeable symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning such as headaches at 70 parts per million, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Disorientation, unconsciousness, and death are possible at levels around 150 to 200 parts per million.

When inside, investigators discovered that the exhaust pipe on top of the hot water heater was slightly dislodged, according to the statement. The hot water heater, a Navien tankless model, was installed by Reitter and a friend on Dec. 15, 2018, according to records. The water heater requires conversion from natural gas to propane.

A Delaware County code compliance inspector said the water heater appeared to be code compliant but no permit was on file for the installation as required by law.

Police said in the statement Navien had recalled about 3400 tankless water heaters on Dec. 20 last year with several different models because a “kit installed on the tankless water heaters and boilers to convert them from natural gas to propane can cause the unit to produce excessive amounts of carbon monoxide, posing a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning to consumers.” But the model used in Reitter’s home was not listed as a recalled product.

Police said after testing the hot water heater and furnace, they discovered that the water heater immediately began emitting high levels of carbon monoxide as soon as it was turned on. They were unable to determine whether the cause of carbon monoxide was due to a faulty installation or a faulty unit as the testing had to be stopped. Police say they will be conducting further tests to determine what caused the carbon monoxide leakage.

“The Genoa Township Police Department makes no allegations or assertions that the cause of the carbon monoxide was due to human or product error; that remains undetermined,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, the fire department said they discovered a similar case on May 5 in Marion County, where another model of the Navien tankless water heater, which converted natural gas from propane, had a leakage exposing an individual to carbon monoxide. That individual survived the incident.

Officials say that in that incident the exhaust pipe was dislodged in what it appears to be the same area and in a similar way as the unit in the Reitter family home. Both incidents have been reported to the CPSC, police said.

According to UPSC, there are about 170 people deaths on average in the United States every year from carbon monoxide produced by non-automotive consumer products. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and poisonous gas, which is produced by the incomplete burning of different fuels like coal and wood.

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