4 die from carbon monoxide
BLANCHARD, N.D.—The streets were quiet here Tuesday afternoon—a stark contrast to the police sirens that worried residents late Sunday night.
“In a little town like this, you hear a siren, and you wonder what’s going on,” said Ruth Johnson, 73, of Blanchard.
It was a fatal carbon monoxide leak at 15746 Fifth St. S.E. in rural Blanchard, which left four people dead and four others hospitalized, including four young children.
Ross Matejcek, 53, owned the home and lived there with his girlfriend, Bonnie Fisher, 45, and her son, Ricky Fisher, 27.
Found dead at the scene were Matejcek, Ricky Fisher, Margaret “Megan” Fisher, 24, of Portland, N.D., and Megan’s 6-year-old son, Jabin Newmes, also of Portland.
Matejcek is the brother of Tim Matejcek of Fairmount. He formerly lived in Fairmount and graduated from high school there.
Ambulances brought Bonnie Fisher and three children — ages 4 years, 2 years and 8 months — to a Fargo hospital. Megan Fisher, who is Bonnie’s daughter, was mother to all four of the young children, said Capt. Tony Ernst of the Traill County Sheriff’s Office.
One other person was in the house but was unaffected by the carbon monoxide, he said.
Ernst said the three children had been released from the hospital as of Tuesday afternoon. Bonnie Fisher was in good condition Tuesday night, Sanford Health spokeswoman Nadine Aljets said.
Ernst said an improperly vented water heater caused the carbon monoxide leak. The propane-fueled tankless water heater was being used to fill a large swimming pool in Matejcek’s backyard.
Billy Knutson, Bonnie Fisher’s brother, said his family is still struggling to grasp what happened.
“We’re trying to get through it. It’s tough, very tough,” he said.
Knutson said his family members have volunteered to care for Megan Fisher’s surviving young children, rather than having them live in a foster home.
But the children’s father also is involved, so Knutson is not sure how the situation will pan out.
“They’re scared to death,” he said of the children.
The Fisher family also is working on funeral arrangements, Knutson said. Memorial funds have been established through Choice Financial, Citizens Community Credit Union and www.gofundme.com/fisherfamilyfund to help with funeral costs.
A funeral for Matejcek was held Friday, June 12, at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Fairmount, N.D., according to Matejcek’s obituary.
Knutson said his nephew, Ricky Fisher, had a passion for cars and motorcycles, and Megan Fisher “was really loving with her kids and loving with animals.”
Cordilayne Meyer, a friend of the Fisher family from Emerado, N.D., said the family “always made everything fun. They’re a very lively group of people.”
When Traill County Sheriff’s deputies and Hillsboro (N.D.) Police officers approached Matejcek’s house about 10:20 p.m. Sunday, they weren’t sure what type of emergency they were responding to, as the 911 call had disconnected.
After rescuing the three surviving children from the upper floors of the house, two officers entered the basement, where they were almost overcome by a carbon monoxide-induced headache within three to four minutes, Ernst said.
“They decided they better get out of there before they became victims too,” he said.
As those officers exited the basement, Hillsboro firefighters with breathing masks entered the basement and found the rest of the house’s occupants.
The bodies of the four deceased were sent to a medical examiner’s office, Ernst said.
Officers remained on scene until about 3 p.m. Monday.
No foul play is suspected in the accident, but the investigation is still incomplete, as officers must finish interviewing the survivors, Ernst said.
He added the accident could have been prevented if the house had functional carbon monoxide detectors.
The accident shocked not only family members, but many residents of Blanchard, Hillsboro, Emerado and other nearby towns.
“Everybody is just kind of shook up over it,” said Johnson, who didn’t know the Fisher family well but knows others who did. “We were wondering, ‘How could that happen?’ “
Hillsboro resident Ashley Henn, 28, used to babysit for Matejcek and knew the Fishers.
“It’s very shocking,” Henn said. “I don’t even know if I want to believe it yet.”
Matejcek’s neighbor declined to comment on the accident Tuesday afternoon, calling the situation sad and tragic.
Meyer added many people in Emerado “are in shock,” as they graduated from Larimore High School with members of the Fisher family.
Blanchard is an unincorporated town in Traill County with a population of 26, according to the 2010 U.S. census. It’s about 50 miles southwest of Grand Forks by road.
Ernst said he has worked with the Traill County Sheriff’s Office for 26 years and has never encountered an incident involving four quiet deaths, including a 6-year-old child, as was caused by the carbon monoxide leak.
“I can’t remember a case with multiple deaths like this,” he said. “I hope to never see it again.”
How to help:
Three fundraisers have been established to help the Fisher family pay for funeral expenses and other costs. They are through Choice Financial, Citizens Community Credit Union and www.gofundme.com/fisherfamilyfund.