Alleghany County family survives after poisonous gas fills home

Covington family of seven thankful to be alive

By Tommy Lopez - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

COVINGTON, Va. - Seven members of a Covington family are continuing to recover after what they describe as a near-death experience. They got carbon monoxide poisoning inside their home.

Everyone survived, including their dog, but the high levels Wednesday night could have been deadly. They described the frantic, fearful moments to 10 News.

Matt Bowser thought he was watching his family die.

“It was chaos. It was complete chaos,” he said.

One daughter stumbled into their room around 11:30 p.m., complaining about a headache, blurred vision and nausea before collapsing on the floor.

“It was really scary. I didn’t know what was going on,” 15-year-old Payton Reynolds said.

Another daughter fell down a staircase, moments which home security video captured. Later, family members would watch the video, crying when they heard the sound of her body hitting each step on the way down.

“I should have been dead. There’s no way someone should have lived through that,” 15-year-old Ryle Reynolds said.

Bowser’s wife, Tiffany, then became ill. As she was passing out in the bathroom, she hit her chin, which caused her face to be covered in blood.

“It’s unforgettable. It’s traumatic. It’s something that you want to help other people from having the experience,” she said.

The family members who were conscious were feeling the effects of the poisoning, which gave them a headache and made it difficult for them to think.

Matt Bowser called 911 and emergency medical service crews arrived minutes later. 

“Professionals that do this for a living say at those levels we should all be dead,” Bowser said. “This is something you will never forget, and it puts it into perspective.”

The first daughter to feel sick just happened to still be awake that late at night. She was working on homework. If she hadn’t been awake, they fear none of them would have survived.

“It hit me. How did we not die? How did we not die?” 14-year-old Jakob Bowser said.

The family’s boiler malfunctioned and caused the problem. Many faulty non-electric appliances can lead to the issue.

Carbon monoxide can’t be seen or smelled. Local emergency crews believe not enough people are aware of just how dangerous potential problems are.

“Because you can't detect it it's enormously dangerous. People sit in their house. They start to feel bad. They may feel like they have the flu, headache, dry mouth, things like that,” said Jim Cady, Roanoke Fire-EMS Battalion Chief of Health and Safety.

Matt Bowser is a chief deputy with the Alleghany County Sheriff's Office. Even he didn’t have detectors in his house. Now, the family has seven, and they’re urging everyone else to get them.

“By the grace of God we’re all living and breathing, and we’re going to urge and try to promote to everyone we can talk to the importance of a carbon monoxide detector,” Bowser said.

Any combustion engine can produce the poisonous gas, including oil furnaces, kerosene heaters, wood stoves and gas water heaters and stoves.

Also, cars left running in closed, attached garages can cause carbon monoxide to filter into a house. Birds that build nests in pipes can cause the problem as well.

EMS workers say having one detector per floor is a good idea. If someone has a problem with carbon monoxide, EMS crews say they'd prefer for everyone to get out of the house without ventilating the home so crews can use a meter to find the source.

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