Inquest called in Rusk/McNamee tragedy

The territory’s chief coroner has called an inquest into the deaths of five people who were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning in their Porter Creek home this past winter.

The territory’s chief coroner has called an inquest into the deaths of five people who were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning in their Porter Creek home this past winter.

The Rusk family and their boarder Donald McNamee, 47, were all found dead in their Centennial Street home on January 29.

On Friday, the territory’s new chief coroner, Kirsten Macdonald announced she “has reason to believe” that holding an inquest would be “advisable.”

The entire Rusk family, including 45-year-old Bradley, his wife Valerie, 37, their 13-year-old son Gabriel and 11-year-old daughter Rebekah, had been feeling sick and were staying home from school and work in the days before their deaths. Tragically, that lengthened their exposure to the toxic gas that was slowly filling up their home.

The fire marshal’s report into the incident showed the old masonry chimney had been completely blocked with ice. This was caused both by the chimney’s state of disrepair – it was crumbling in on itself – and the improper installation of a new oil-burning furnace. Building codes detail that a liner should be placed within older chimneys and that the diameter be narrowed if newer appliances are hooked up to them. This wasn’t done at the Centennial Street home, but a city building inspector approved the installation.

The furnace was also improperly set. It was “under-fired” in an effort to be more energy efficient. This common practice caused the flue gases to be too cold for the old, unlined chimney. The exhaust, which is largely water vapour, then froze inside the chimney.

There was evidence that the furnace had been serviced. Two service stickers from Certified Heating and Service, owned by Lance Couch, dated October 27, 2010 and October 14, 2011, were found on the boiler.

Since the deaths, demands have been made from the public and opposition parties for government action on oil-burner equipment safety, oil-burner mechanic regulations and changes to the Landlord Tenant Act.

More than one report, commissioned by the Yukon Housing Corporation over five years ago, warned the government about the dismal state of the oil-burner industry in the territory and called for better regulation.

Those recommendations were ignored.

The Rusk family rented their Porter Creek home from 10785 Yukon Ltd., a company that lists Fae Jamieson and Geraldine Tuton as directors. The house did not have a carbon monoxide detector installed and has since been torn down.

Arrangements for the inquest, including gathering a jury of six people, will “begin in the near future,” Macdonald said on Monday. During the inquest, the jury and coroner will hear evidence, including testimony from subpoenaed witnesses, in hopes of providing recommendations that will prevent future deaths.

Macdonald would not elaborate on which witnesses may be called.

This is not the territory’s first inquest into carbon-monoxide-caused deaths, however.

Thirty-six years ago, an inquest looked into the deaths of two women who also died of carbon monoxide poisoning in their house.

That case also involved a badly-maintained masonry chimney that plugged with ice, causing toxic fumes from the oil-burning furnace to fill the house.

Documents at Yukon Archives show that in December 1975, Judith Armstrong, 27, and Dorothy Fraser, 61, were found dead in their 312 Alexander St. home.

The inquest that followed ruled Armstrong and Fraser’s deaths were accidental.

It called for the women’s chimney to be upgraded or replaced and for ongoing newspaper and radio advertisements to remind homeowners to keep an eye on masonry chimneys liable to clog.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at roxannes@yukon-news.com