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Genoa Township Police Blame Water Heater For Carbon Monoxide Deaths

Santeri Viinamäki
Wikimedia Commons

Police in Genoa Township say a malfunctioning water heater appears to be the cause of a carbon monoxide leak that killed a family of four earlier this month.

Authorities say a preliminary investigation shows an exhaust pipe on the top of a water heater was slightly dislodged. Police say the water heater was installed by the homeowner, Richard Reitter III, and a family friend in December 2018. Police say the water heater met building code standards, but it did not have a permit on file, as required by law.

Reitter was found dead inside the home on Lewis Center Road on May 2, along with his wife Jennifer Reitter and their teenage children, Richard Reitter IV and Grace Reitter.

When first responders entered the home, they encountered carbon monoxide levels above 1,200 parts per million.

“I’ve been with the fire department for 25 years. I’ve never encountered a residence that had greater than 1,000 parts per million of carbon monoxide,” said Deputy Police Chief Joe Ponzi said in a press conference the day after the family was found. “The highest I’ve ever seen was 500-600, and that was a very small garage.”

Fire officials say the Reitter home did not have carbon monoxide detectors.

Police say the type of water installed in the Reiter home, a Nevian NPE-240A tankless water heater, caused a similar leak in Marion County earlier this month, although no one died.

On Dec. 20, 2018, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a recall for about 3,400 Navien tankless water heaters, although not the exact version installed in the Reitter home, 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.”