Police believe carbon monoxide caused the deaths of three members of the same Brampton, Ont., family early Monday when propane heaters were brought into the home after the furnace stopped working in frigid conditions.
"It's just a tragedy … a terrible situation," Peel Regional Police Const. Fiona Thivierge told reporters Monday.
Just before 2 a.m. Monday, emergency services were called to a house on Linden Crescent, in the Dixie Road and Queen Street area. The 911 call was made by Jerry Pitamber, 29, who arrived home to find carbon monoxide detectors activated and members of his family unconscious.
Five people inside the home were taken to hospital, where three were pronounced dead. Two others were treated in hospital and have since been released.
Family ran 2 restaurants
The victims are members of an extended family that owns and operates two popular Guyanese-Chinese restaurants in Brampton.
Dead are Peter Pitamber, 60, owner of Calypso Hut on Queen Street and his wife Seeta Pitamber, 59. The couple's 36-year-old son Terry Pitamber also died.
Also in the home was Paul Rampersaud, 56, Peter's brother (who took a different last name) and owner of the second Calypso Hut location. Paul was taken to hospital but was later released. Another man, a friend of the family's, was also released after being treated in hospital
At the time of the incident, the family had gathered at the Pitamber home to mourn the recent death of Paul and Peter's mother.
Paul Rampersaud issued a statement Monday on behalf of the family.
"Today has been an unimaginable and horrific day for our family," it reads. "The past few weeks have been extremely difficult, as we have been grieving the death of my mother who passed a few weeks ago.
"My brother, Peter Pitamber, came to this country from Guyana over three decades ago. From humble beginnings he became a respected businessman and active member of the Brampton community. Peter built a strong home for his family, and we ask that you now pray for his surviving son, Jerry.
"We are currently in the process of making funeral arrangements and would ask that the media kindly respect our privacy during this devastating time."
Alvin Rampersaud was among the family and friends gathered at a Calypso Hut in the wake of the tragic news.
"Peter had the biggest heart, his wife was just a wonderful person. They’d do anything for anybody,” he said. “It’s just a shock."
Another cousin, Ian Tennessee, was still reeling from the news that three members of the family are dead.
"I was shocked. I was sitting at my office and I was shaking and trembling. I really couldn’t move for a good half an hour," he told CBC News.
A funeral will be held at a Brampton funeral home on Sunday, with a viewing expected to take place the day before.
Propane heaters brought indoors
Police believe the family's furnace stopped working Sunday, and at some point, propane heaters were brought inside to heat the home. Overnight temperatures Sunday dipped to the –15 C range with the windchill making it feel like it was mid–20s.
Police said those who died were in the upper level of the home, while the survivors were on the lower level.
"We would caution people to not bring propane heaters into their house," said Thivierge. "It's a very dangerous situation."
Shortly after 9 a.m. Monday, Brampton Fire and Emergency Services issued a warning on Twitter about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.
"This tragedy shows that you should never use propane appliances in the home," said the tweet. "If your furnace goes out, call for repair."
This tragedy shows that it you should never use propane appliances in the home; if your furnace goes out call for repair— Brampton Fire (@BramptonFireES) March 17, 2014
The coroner's office has taken over the investigation.
During December's ice storm in southern Ontario, carbon monoxide poisoning was blamed for a number of deaths and near deaths as people tried to stay warm during extended power outages.