Genoa Township investigators have determined that a tankless water heater installed by the homeowner without a required permit is the likely cause of a carbon-monoxide leak that killed a family of four in their home this month.
Richard Gabriel Reitter, 50, who installed the heater last year with a friend, was found dead May 2 in his home in the 6900 block of Lewis Center Road with his wife, Jennifer Reitter, 49, and their two children, Richard Gabriel Reitter IV, 15, and Grace Reitter, 13.
Each was found in a separate bedroom or bathroom. Three family dogs also died. The house had no carbon-monoxide detector. The last known contact with the family was on the evening of April 29, when they had complained of illness.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning and afternoon newsletters
Genoa Township police have ruled out foul play. Police cannot say whether the leak was due to faulty installation or a product defect.
During a preliminary inspection of the appliance, police and fire personnel saw that the exhaust pipe on top of the water heater was dislodged. A Delaware County code-compliance inspector who examined the water heater on May 2 after the deaths were discovered reported that it appeared to be code-compliant, but no installation permit was on file, as is required by the Ohio Residential Code.
A forensic-engineering company examined the heater, a Navien NPE-240A tankless system installed by Reitter on Dec. 15, 2018. The heater required the conversion from natural gas to propane. During a test of the heater, it quickly emitted a high level of carbon monoxide, and the test had to be stopped. Additional testing is planned.
The home's furnace was found to be in good working order.
In December, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled about 3,400 Navien 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, posing a risk of carbon-monoxide poisoning to consumers," according to the commission.
The Reitters' model was not included in the recall.
Investigators learned last week that a non-fatal case of carbon-monoxide poisoning in Marion County on May 5 was caused by a Navien NCB-240E tankless water heater that also had been converted from natural gas to propane. It was installed in September 2018, also had a dislodged exhaust pipe, and also was not part of the recall.
Police have reported both incidents to the consumer-product safety section of the Ohio attorney general’s office and to the federal product-safety commission.
Joe Ponzi, Genoa Township's deputy fire chief, said of the similar facts in the two poisonings: "It's highly suspicious. It concerns us greatly."
Ponzi said consumers with concerns about their tankless water heater should call the installer or a licensed plumber.