Gas-fitter's fatal negligence brings thousands in fines

The last photo of Jesse Samuel, a selfie taken while out white-baiting the night before he died....
The last photo of Jesse Samuel, a selfie taken while out white-baiting the night before he died. Photo: Supplied
A gas-fitter whose negligence led to the death of a 12-year-old boy will pay his family $70,000.

Michael Cartwright and Central Plumbing Limited – which trades as Laser Plumbing Alexandra – appeared in the Dunedin District Court this afternoon after pleading guilty to two two charges under the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Act.

As well as the reparation order, Cartwright was fined $19,250 and his company $104,500.

The defendants were responsible for the installation of a gas hot water unit in a portable bathroom for Justine Walker and her family.

There was a warning sign on the unit, the court heard, that specified it should not be installed in a bathroom but it was fatally ignored.

It was later transported to the family’s holiday home in Haast and on October 10, 2018, 12-year-old Jesse Samuel died after taking a shower.

An autopsy found Jesse's blood level was 59 per cent saturated with carbon monoxide.

Ms Walker said she did not see it as an accident.

“As far as I am concerned, he killed my son," she told the NZ Herald.

She and other members of the extended family read tearful victim-impact statements in court this afternoon but the contents were suppressed by Judge Josephine Bouchier.

She began proceedings by formally acknowledging the loss of Jesse but informed those in court that their pain could not be a governing factor at sentencing.

The monetary penalties spoken about were not supposed to equate to the value of a life, the judge said.

“There's nothing this court can do that will bring Jesse back.”

The summary of facts said Gary Hale - a registered plumber and gas-fitter who jointly owns the company with Cartwright - was employed to install the gas hot water unit.

Cartwright was responsible for signing off Hale's work.

To avoid carbon monoxide entering the room, the unit had to be installed with adequate ventilation, the summary said.

Hale installed the water heater inside the bathroom and did not raise any concerns with Ms Walker. Cartwright, who was required to certify the installation, never visited the bathroom, did not inspect the water heater, carry out any tests or consult with Hale, the court heard.

In 2017, the pipework split, but Hale wasn't available to do the repairs. Ms Walker sent the unit to a Wanaka–based firm and decided to move the shower unit to Haast.

The summary of facts stated Ms Walker installed an identical gas unit using the same fitting Hale had installed and Cartwright signed it off.

Judge Bouchier said: “this was always an incident of harm waiting to happen.”

She accepted, however, the defendants were remorseful, which was clear from them cooperating with Worksafe's investigation and changing the way they operated.

Cartwright and his company had a previously unblemished record, the judge said.

Crown prosecutor Steve Simon, said the case was among the worst of its kind since there were obvious warnings against installing the unit as it was.

He said the negligence was compounded by Cartwright's actions in certifying his colleague's work without viewing it.

The defendant was the fail-safe who failed, Mr Simon said.

Defence counsel Joseph Lill said Hale had stopped doing any gas-fitting work after his licence was cancelled.

He stressed to the court his clients felt genuine remorse for what occurred but accepted apologies may not have been passed onto family of the victim.

The company, Mr Lill submitted, had reviewed its processes and such an error would never recur. 

Neither Cartwright nor the victim's family made comment outside court after the hearing. 

 

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