Water Heater Issue Linked to Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, Killed Family of 4: Police

Mimi Nguyen Ly
By Mimi Nguyen Ly
May 14, 2019USshare
Water Heater Issue Linked to Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, Killed Family of 4: Police
File photo of a police car. (Pixabay/CC0)

Police say that an issue with a tankless water heater had caused excess levels of carbon monoxide to leak in a family home in Ohio, and that all four members of the family had died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Police came to the Reitter family home in Genoa Township for a welfare check on May 2. But they found 50-year-old Gabe Reitter III, 49-year-old Jennifer Reitter, and their children Gabe IV and Grace, dead. Their three dogs were also dead.

“The four family members were located in separate rooms, either in bed or in bathrooms,” police said in a statement (pdf). “The three family dogs were also deceased with two of them in crates.”

The last known contact with the family was late April 29, when all four members had complained of illness, police said. The parents had told the schools that their daughter, Grace, would not be attending on April 30 because she was ill.

Neighbor Charlene Baggs told ABC6 that she was close to the family.

“They moved in just a couple of years ago and just became very close friends,” she said.

“They were very nice kids. He had his own business. Their two little kids call me grandma, so you know they are going to be really missed.”

Gabe Reitter owned a construction company, and the business will continue, his brother-in-law, Ralph Marcum, told ABC6. However, he is struggling with the loss.

“It could not happen to someone who was so giving,” Marcum told the new station. “He was a brother.”

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The Montgomery County Coroner listed the cause of death as carbon monoxide saturation, but this could be changed to carbon monoxide intoxication depending on the results of blood tests on the victims.

A forensic engineering company tested the water heater inside the home on May 3 and found that it was emitting high levels of carbon monoxide.

But police emphasize that they cannot confirm if the high levels of carbon monoxide were caused by faulty installation of the water heater or the water heater being defective itself. This could only be confirmed via further testing—a decision in the hands of the executors of the family estate, and or the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

According to the CPSC, carbon monoxide is a poisonous and deadly gas that is colorless and odorless. It is produced when fuels—for example, coal, wool, oil, kerosene, propane, and natural gas—are burnt incompletely.

Very High Levels of Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide levels were about 999 to 1200 parts per million (ppm) inside the home, which had to be vented out before first responders could enter safely. They were unable to find any carbon monoxide detectors inside the home.

If carbon monoxide levels stay above 70 ppm, people can become affected and start having symptoms like headache, fatigue, and nausea, according to the CPSC. If levels stay above 150 to 200 ppm, people can become disoriented, unconscious, or die.

Upon entering the home, first responders from the police and fire departments had noticed that the exhaust pipe on top of the water heater was slightly dislodged.

According to records, Gabe Reitter and a friend had installed the tankless water heater on Dec. 18, 2018. The water heater is a “Navien NPE-240A tankless system” and it requires that natural gas be converted to propane.

On Dec. 20, 2018, Navien had recalled about 3,400 of its tankless water heaters, 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.”

But the model of the water heater in the Reitter home was not one of the models listed in Navien’s recall.

Another Dislodged Exhaust Pipe

The fire department noted that a similar incident had occurred in Marion County on May 5, where a person survived after they had been exposed to carbon monoxide.

The cause was deduced to a “Navien NCB-240E” tankless water heater, which was converting natural gas to propane.

Investigators from the police and fire departments saw that the hot water heater in this case also had a dislodged exhaust pipe, “in what seems to be the same location and manner as the unit in the Reitter home.”

Police have reported the two similar cases to the CPSC on May 10, and have shared all their knowledge of the latest case to help decide what further investigation, if any, will be carried out.

“More than 150 people in the United States die every year from accidental non-fire related carbon monoxide poisoning associated with consumer products,” the CPSC states on its website.

The CPSC advises getting outside to fresh air as soon as possible if you think you have any symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Leave the home and call your fire department to report your symptoms from a neighbor’s home. You could lose consciousness and die if you stay in the home,” its website states.

If a doctor confirms carbon monoxide poisoning, the CPSC advises that you have a qualified service person check that appliances around the house are in good working order before reusing them.

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