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Water heater to blame for carbon monoxide deaths of Genoa Township family, investigation finds

Authorities believe a tankless water heater probably caused a carbon monoxide leak that killed a family of four at a home in Genoa Township.

DELAWARE, Ohio — The carbon monoxide deaths of four members of the Reitter family in Genoa Township was caused by a water heater that was installed by Gabe Reitter and a friend, according to Genoa Township Police investigation.

Investigators were also able to determine that the hot water heater model Navien NPE-240A tankless system is similar to a water heater that was part of US Consumer Product Safety Commission recall.

The water heater in the Reitter's home was not part of that recall.

Fifty-year-old Richard Gabriel Reitter III, his wife Jennifer Reitter, 49, and their two kids Richard Gabriel Reitter IIII, 15, and Grace Reitter, 13, along with their 3 dogs were found dead inside their home on May 2.

According to the investigative report, during a preliminary inspection of appliances, police and fire personnel observed the exhaust pipe on top of the hot water heater was slightly dislodged. A Delaware County code compliance inspector examined the water heater on May 2 and reported it did appear to be code compliant, but no permit was on file for the installation as required by Ohio Residential Code 2013, Section 105.1.

Investigators say they did not find carbon monoxide detectors in the home.

Navien released the following statement:

We were notified today of the death of the Reitter family based on their exposure to carbon monoxide. Our hearts go out to their family, friends and community for this tragic loss. We are extending our immediate cooperation to authorities in investigating how and why the exhaust pipe, which is attached to the water heater during its installation, became dislodged. The safety of our consumers is of utmost importance, and we will complete our investigation as swiftly as possible.

Other findings from the report:

  • On May 3 Genoa Township Police Department had the hot water heater and furnace examined by a forensic engineering company. When an operational trial was initiated the water heater immediately began emitting high levels of carbon monoxide. 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. The furnace was found to be in good working order.
  • The Genoa Township Fire Department learned that on May 5, 2019, the Fort Morrow Fire District in Marion County, Ohio responded to a similar incident in which an individual survived after being exposed to carbon monoxide in their home. The source of carbon monoxide in the Marion County incident was a Navien NCB-240E tankless water heater that had been converted from natural gas to propane. It was installed in September 2018.
  • Genoa Township Police and Fire Departments reviewed photographs of the hot water heater in the Marion County incident and noted the exhaust pipe was dislodged in what seems to be the same location and manner as the unit in the Reitter home.
  • Genoa Township Police briefed the family of the deceased and their lawyers on May 9th on the status of the investigation. It was stressed that Genoa Township Police cannot say whether the cause of the carbon monoxide was due to faulty installation or a product defect. Further testing would be required to make that determination at the discretion of the executor(s) of the estate and/or the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  • 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.