Monday, May 23, 2016

One Fatal Moment

Man’s Tragic Mistake Left His Wife and 2 Dogs Dead in Their Home
“It was a split second of forgetting.”

The Huffington Post  05/20/2016 Lisa Capretto

On the morning of July 18, 2004, Pete Koutrakos got ready for work while his wife, Jennifer, slept soundly. Pete headed into the garage and got into his car to hit the road, but there was a problem. The car wouldn’t start.

Using the nearby jumper cables, Pete used Jennifer’s car to start his own. It worked, and Pete drove into work like he had so many days before.

But this day would be different. Pete made one fateful mistake before he left the house that morning: He closed the garage door but forgot to shut off Jennifer’s car.

While Jennifer slept, carbon monoxide fumes filled the house.

When Pete hadn’t heard from his wife by that afternoon, he grew concerned. After his calls to the house went unanswered, Pete raced home to an unimaginable scene. His wife and their two dogs were dead. The carbon monoxide fumes had killed them all.

Courtesy of Pete Koutrakos

Jennifer and Pete had been married for a year and 10 months (together for nine and a half) when she died. 

Four months after the tragedy, Pete appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show. His grief and emotions were still raw as he spoke of the guilt he carried over the death of his wife and pets.

“It was a split second of forgetting,” he said back then. “Initially, you blame yourself. It’s like, ‘Why didn’t I shut the car off? Why didn’t I shut the car off?’ You go, ‘Why?’ and you can’t do that. You can’t ‘Why? Why?’ all the time. You’ll go nuts.”

Pete’s heartache was palpable to the audience that day as he opened up about the tragic mistake, and Oprah later explained that there actually were several layers to this lesson. 

“On the surface, it looks like, ‘Oh, a lesson about carbon monoxide poisoning,’ and it looks like a lesson about leaving the car on in the garage,” she said. “But it really is about present moment. This present moment, and staying in the consciousness of this present moment.”

Pete has since said that appearing on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” back then helped him heal, adding that the support and kindness from strangers is what keeps him going.


What a dreadful story.  I’ve heard other tales of a single mistake costing lives on the battlefield or other stressful or outright dangerous environments.  But this incident tugs at out heartstrings, (or engenders righteous indignation) because it seems so avoidable. 

But what happened with Mr. Koutrakos?  Why didn’t he shut off his wife’s car?  

A number of reasons occurred to me.  Perhaps his wife’s car was a hybrid – they are virtually silent when idling.  He may have had the distraction of a cell phone call, a set of earbuds, or simple lack of sleep.  Maybe he was simply having “one of those days.”  We all do.

In any case, it is very sad, and I feel his pain.  I hope he can forgive himself and that others forgive him.
I looked at statistics on carbon monoxide poisoning, and it is much more common than I thought.  

From: Wikipedia

The true number of incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning is unknown, since many non-lethal exposures go undetected. From the available data, carbon monoxide poisoning is the most common cause of injury and death due to poisoning worldwide. Poisoning is typically more common during the winter months. This is due to increased domestic use of gas furnaces, gas or kerosene space heaters, and kitchen stoves during the winter months, which if faulty and/or used without adequate ventilation, may produce excessive carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide detection and poisoning also increases during power outages. 

It has been estimated that more than 40,000 people per year seek medical attention for carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States. 95% of carbon monoxide poisoning deaths in the United States are due to gas space heaters. In many industrialized countries carbon monoxide is the cause of more than 50% of fatal poisonings. In the United States, approximately 200 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning associated with home fuel-burning heating equipment. Carbon monoxide poisoning contributes to the approximately 5613 smoke inhalation deaths each year in the United States. The CDC reports, "Each year, more than 500 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, and more than 2,000 commit suicide by intentionally poisoning themselves." For the 10-year period from 1979 to 1988, 56,133 deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning occurred in the United States, with 25,889 of those being suicides, leaving 30,244 unintentional deaths. A report from New Zealand showed that 206 people died from carbon monoxide poisoning in the years of 2001 and 2002. In total  carbon monoxide poisoning was responsible for 43.9% of deaths by poisoning in that country. In South Korea, 1,950 people had been poisoned by carbon monoxide with 254 deaths from 2001 through 2003. A report from Jerusalem showed 3.53 per 100,000 people were poisoned annually from 2001 through 2006. In Hubei, China, 218 deaths from poisoning were reported over a 10-year period with 16.5% being from carbon monoxide exposure.  (bolding is mine)

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