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Failure of coal stove kills man

By Staff | May 8, 2012

ELIMSPORT – A malfunctioning coal stove is being blamed for the death of a corrections officer who investigators said died of carbon monoxide fumes that filled his bi-level home on Route 44 in Washington Township.

Elwood Henry Dewald Jr., 62, was found dead in his home at 17382 Route 44 about 2:45 p.m. last Wednesday, Lycoming County Coroner Charles E. Kiessling Jr. said.

Dewald was a corrections officer at the state Correctional Institution at Muncy.

Preliminary blood tests showed that Dewald had very high levels of carbon monoxide in his body, said Kiessling, who pronounced the man dead at the scene. The death has been ruled accidental, Kiessling added.

The victim had collapsed on the floor, less than five feet from the front door, Washington Township Fire Chief Bob Ulrich said.

Several dead cats also were found inside the home, but eight kittens were found alive and were handed over to a concerned citizen, who is taking care of them.

Dewald, who lived alone, was discovered after concerned colleagues at the prison went to the house to check on his welfare because he had failed to show up for work, Kiessling said.

Emergency responders were called to the property to investigate a report of “a possible expired person,” Ulrich said. When firefighters reached the scene, the victim already was dead.

Firefighters backed out of the house and put on self-contained breathing apparatus after seeing several dead cats in the home.

A carbon monoxide meter detected “very high, dangerous levels” of the odorless poisonous gas inside the home, Ulrich said.

A fire was burning in a Stoker stove as well as in the stove’s reservoir bin, about two feet above the unit, Ulrich said. There should never be a fire in the bin, he added.

“The stove was producing carbon monoxide through incomplete combustion,” and there was no way for the carbon monoxide to get outside the house, Ulrich said.

With the assistance of Clinton Township volunteer firefighters, Washington Township firefighters doused the fires in the stove and in the reservoir bin and ventilated the house with exhaust fans. Investigators could not enter the property until the carbon monoxide level had dropped to a safe level.