Officials focus on vent pipe


The Courier-Journal

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ky. – As temperatures dipped into the single digits Saturday night, the Thacker family made sure their house was sealed against the cold and their old-style natural gas stove was turned up.

From the stove, a vent pipe designed to keep deadly carbon monoxide gas from poisoning the family of four rose into the attic of the one-story home.

There, the end of the pipe, which did not vent to the outside of the house, was covered in layers of insulation, investigators said. With nowhere to exit, the poisonous, odorless and invisible gas began to fill the house and suffocate the family.

Bert Thacker, 49, his son Marvin Thacker, 13, and daughter Heather Thacker 11, were found dead in the house Sunday morning, said Shane Barnes, a detective with the Montgomery County sheriff’s department.

Thacker’s wife and the children’s mother, Mary Thacker, 32, was found unconscious. She was flown to the University of Kentucky Medical Center but never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead yesterday morning.

Mary Thacker had told Allison Baker, her brother, on Saturday night that she had a headache and was feeling nauseous.

With the windows sealed with plastic, there was no way for either the carbon monoxide to exit or for fresh air to get in. The combination was deadly, investigators said.

The bodies were discovered at 10:15 a.m. Sunday by Mary Thacker’s sister, who came to visit from Wolfe County.

The man and boy were found in the living room of the four-room house, and the woman and girl were in the mother’s bed, Barnes said.

Though Barnes said the Thackers used an “older variety” gas stove to heat their home, it was not clear if the stove’s age had anything to do with the accident.

While the deaths are still under investigation, Barnes said the evidence is pointing to the covered pipe as the cause.

Montgomery County Coroner Wallace Johnson said the father and two children appeared to have died around midnight. He said the deaths are the first carbon monoxide poisonings he has seen in his 15 years as county coroner.

According to the Kentucky Cabinet for Families and Children, there were nine nonfire-related carbon monoxide deaths in 1997 and five in 1998, the latest year for which state figures are available.

Nationally, 138 people died in 2000 from nonfire carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.