Water heater issue likely cause of family’s deaths


An investigation has ruled that a family of four in Genoa Township died in their home from exposure to carbon monoxide, possibly from a water heater. No foul play was suspected.

Genoa police and fire officers discovered the bodies of Richard Gabriel Reitter III, 50 years old; his wife, Jennifer Reitter, 49; and their children, Richard Gabriel Reitter IV, 15; Grace Reitter, 13 on the afternoon of May 2 in the family’s home at 6931 Lewis Center Road during a well-being check. The last known contact with the family was on April 29, and all said they felt ill.

Two high readings of carbon monoxide required police and fire personnel to vent the home to safely search it as even exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas, can cause flu-like symptoms. Hundreds die annually in the U.S. from carbon monoxide, states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

“The four family members were located in separate rooms, either in bed or in bathrooms,” states the investigation update issued Monday by Genoa Township. “The three family dogs were also deceased with two of them in crates. No carbon monoxide detectors were found in the home.”

Genoa Twp. Fire Deputy Chief Joseph Ponzi said during a press conference on May 3, “We cannot stress enough to have at least one carbon monoxide detector on every level of your home,” in addition to working smoke alarms.

The investigation update from the township states the Reitter family autopsies were performed by the Montgomery County Coroner, and the preliminary report lists the cause of death as carbon monoxide saturation. The cause of death for all four individuals may be changed to carbon monoxide intoxication after the blood gases are analyzed in a few weeks.

“There were no other signs of trauma or any other cause of death indicated,” the update states.

On May 3, the Genoa Police Department had the hot water heater and the furnace examined by a forensic engineering company. The furnace was found to be in good working order.

“When an operational trial was initiated the water heater immediately began emitting high levels of carbon monoxide,” the update states. “Testing had to be stopped before it was possible to conclude if the cause of carbon monoxide was faulty installation or a faulty unit; that determination will require more extensive testing.”

Although an exhaust pipe on top of the hot water heater was slightly dislodged, the investigation concluded it had not been tampered with and was code compliant. The update notes the hot water heater had been installed by Mr. Reitter and a friend on Dec. 15, 2018.

The water heater was a Navien NPE-240A tankless system, which requires conversion from natural gas to propane. On Dec. 20, 2018, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a recall for several Navien 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.”

However, as the Navien NPE-240A was not on the recall list. In the course of the investigation, the Genoa Fire Department learned of a similar incident from the Fort Morrow Fire District involving a different model Navien tankless water heater on May 5 in Marion County, the release states. In that case, the individual survived after being exposed to carbon monoxide. Photos showed the exhaust pipe was dislodged in a similar manner to what was found in the Reitter home.

Genoa Police has contacted the Ohio Attorney General’s consumer product safety section and briefed the family of the deceased of their findings.

“The scope of the Genoa Township Police Department’s investigation is only to determine if there was foul play or a crime committed that resulted in the deaths of these individuals,” the update states. “Since determining that is not the case, Genoa Township Police Department will close the investigation once the final autopsy report is received. 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 Reitter family’s home, as seen from Lewis Center Road in Genoa Township on May 3.
https://www.delgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/40/2019/05/web1_DSCF4505-2.jpgThe Reitter family’s home, as seen from Lewis Center Road in Genoa Township on May 3. Gary Budzak | The Gazette

By Gary Budzak

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