By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item
COAL TOWNSHIP — An elderly couple and their adult daughter, who were found dead Monday in their 220 S. Oak St. home, died from carbon monoxide poisoning, apparently caused by a malfunctioning gas furnace.
Northumberland County Coroner James F. Kelley identified the victims as Wayne S. Maurer, 93, his wife, Catherine M. Maurer, 84, and their daughter, Mary Jo A. Maurer, 43. Kelley ruled the deaths accidental. He said they were dead for a couple of days.
Coal Township police officer Matthew Henrick said he was called to the house at about 9:15 a.m. after Mary Jo Maurer failed to report to work at Shamokin Area Community Hospital. Her co-workers had become concerned.
Henrick, assisted by Shamokin police officers, had to borrow a ladder from John Baran, owner of Baran’s Auto Body, 205 S. Oak St. — which is across the street from the victims’ home — to get into the two-story house through a second-floor window.
The three victims were found in separate upstairs bedrooms.
The home was heated by a gas furnace, and it is believed the furnace malfunctioned. The cause of the malfunction was unknown on Monday.
However, Kelley said the home was not equipped with carbon monoxide detectors.
He pronounced Mary Jo Maurer dead at 10:47 a.m., Catherine Maurer at 10:49 and Wayne Maurer at 10:51.
“He was a sweet old guy,” Baran said Monday afternoon. “I’d say hello to him every day. He’d stand on his porch, smoke a cigarette. I didn’t know much about his family, but they were longtime residents. I’ve been on South Oak Street for 30 years, and they were already living in that house when I came here.”
By 3 p.m., a shook-up relative, Ron Maurer, was in the house, cleaning up.
“This is all my responsibility now,” he said, shaking his head and holding back tears. “This is just unbelievable. Terrible. I lost my uncle, my aunt and my cousin.”
Maurer reflected on Wayne Maurer. “He was such good friends with my father, who is also no longer with us,” he said. “They were very close. I’d see Uncle Wayne every week after church. He’d come to my house, and we’d spend time talking. (He was) a really nice guy.”
A UGI Utilities crew found elevated levels of carbon monoxide inside the home, company spokesman Joseph Swope said.
“Obviously, our sympathy goes out to the family. These are always tragic circumstances,” he said in a telephone interview from his Reading office.
Although it is not often fatal, since most people detect the gas when they become lethargic or notice animals becoming ill and plants dying, Swope said, carbon monoxide poisoning is most prevalent in the early fall when the weather becomes cool and people turn on the heat for the first time.
“There are a lot of different reasons that could create this scenario,” he said, including a damaged heater or chimney or a blockage.
With Kelley at the scene were Deputy Coroner James R. Gotlob and Barry J. Leisenring.
— With additional reporting by Marcia Moore.