'We are broken on the inside' Grieving mum speaks

Jesse Samuel's death is thought to be the first of its kind in New Zealand and has sparked safety...
Jesse Samuel's death is thought to be the first of its kind in New Zealand and has sparked safety warnings. Photo: Supplied via NZ Herald
She doesn't want a family photo because he's not in it.

She isn't teaching because children remind her of him.

She won't go back to the bach because that's where he died.

Justine Walker says her world has "changed" and everything in it.

A year ago her oldest son, Jesse Samuel, died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a gas- powered shower at their holiday home in Haast, on the West Coast.

"The honest truth is the only reason why I am here is because my partner Chris and my children need me. There is always a part of me missing. No one would want to live this life. I am angry because this should never have happened. Our lives are ruined and we can't fix it," said Walker.

The mother of three had to stop teaching because her brain couldn't function.

"I'm numb. The grief envelops you and changes you. I was driving my kids to their guitar lessons and I drove three times to get there. The kids said 'What are you doing mum?' I said 'I actually don't know', then broke down and cried."

Walker is speaking publicly to warn others to "always question" the professionals and ensure heating systems are safely installed.

"My brother, who gave us the shower, says he was assured by the plumbers and gasfitter it was fine for the heater to be installed inside. Now my brother feels bad for what's happened. He blames himself as much as we do," she said.

A spokeswoman from WorkSafe confirmed the investigation into the incident was complete and charges against two parties had been filed under the Gas Act.

Michael Cartwright from Laser plumbing made his first appearance at the Alexandra district court on Tuesday.

Cartwright refused to comment when approached by the NZ Herald.

Walker has one question for Cartwright, and that is "why?"

"He hasn't apologised. He might feel remorseful and sad but that's nothing compared to what we have to go through. We have lost Jesse. Our hearts are broken. Whatever happens in the prosecution means nothing - it won't bring Jesse back and that is all I want," said Walker.

On the day of the tragedy, 12-year-old Jesse took a shower in the outdoor bathroom, opposite the kitchen, where his mother was cooking dinner.

The second bathroom, which has an extractor fan, was used by extra family and guests. Jesse chose that shower because the pressure was stronger than the one inside the crib. The shower was a gift from Walker's brother and there were no clues it had been faulty. It had been installed by a plumber, the gas bottle was on the outside and a califont on the inside which heats the water.

"Jesse was in the shower for about 20 minutes but I didn't think too much of it because we were on holiday and I thought Jesse was probably enjoying being in the warmth. But the levels of carbon monoxide skyrocketed after a certain time. We have a big family so, usually, it's in and out of the shower. I feel guilty letting him use that shower now," Walker said.

Her two youngest sons, Zane and Codi, had used the shower the day before without any problems. Jesse was overwhelmed by the gas in the shower and lost consciousness. He was found unresponsive by his mother.

Thousands of baches and homes around the country have similar gas continuous-flow shower-water heating units. A spokeswoman from Master Plumbers said they were a "popular choice" for many homes and baches in New Zealand.

"They are easy to use and provide a reasonably cheap and reliable source of hot water," she said.

Master Plumbers said it was imperative they be fitted by trained professionals who were aware of "modern safety requirements". "All gas appliances, including shower set-ups, should be serviced regularly in line with the manufacturer's instructions by a licensed gasfitter to ensure that they are safe and compliant."

WorkSafe does not have any recorded deaths relating to carbon monoxide poisoning. An Energy Safety staff member recalls a woman dying in her bath pre-2000 after the gas water heater in the bathroom's flue had become blocked, causing carbon monoxide to spill into the bathroom.

Jesse would have turned 14 next month, old enough to babysit his siblings Codi, 10, Zane, 9, and Mckenzie, 3.

"His brothers seem okay but there are times it hits them too. We smile on the outside but we are broken on the inside. I am really touchy about having another family photo. When am I ever going to get another family photo done without Jesse, it doesn't feel right."

Jesse's room is untouched. There is a giant TV, a queen bed and the new mountain bike he loved - but his brothers find it "too hard" to go in there.

"McKenzie still talks about her big brother. She knows he died - all the kids were there that night, they saw everything, which is heartbreaking," said Walker.

Popular with his friends and a good all-rounder, Jesse loved technology and photography.

"He was an active kid who was always on his mountain bike, playing cricket, ice hockey and snowboarding and gaming. I miss his cheeky smile and playing with the other kids. He was my first baby - I was learning how to be a mum to a teenager. We would sit down and have chats about life he was my best friend."

On the first anniversary of his death, a hundred of Jesse's friends and family gathered at his grave at night time to light candles, share memories and set off fireworks.

His mother read the poem "Speak his Name".

"As a mum, it's all about remembering him. I want his name to be used all the time. It's important to me Jesse will always be with us now and in the future. I never want him to be forgotten."

 

Comments

This type of device has to be vented to the outside. to take away harmful burnt gas. this water heater was not vented that way. .

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