Authorities on Friday blamed fumes from a gasoline-powered generator for the deaths of an elderly couple discovered hours before electricity was restored to their rural New Jersey home.
A utility worker and a relative found the bodies of 84-year-old Robert Stephens and his 79-year-old wife, Susanna, at about 5:30 p.m. Thursday in their home in Milford, near the Delaware River in Hunterdon County.
The family member had gone to the home to check on the couple, who had last made contact with family on Tuesday. A contractor from North Carolina who was in the area helping Jersey Central Power and Light was with the family member when they discovered the couple.
Power was restored to the rural neighborhood about two hours later, though other outages in the area remained Friday.
Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony Kearns III said it appeared to be a tragic accident. Family members told police the two were vibrant and healthy, and had been in touch with relatives throughout the storm.
Kearns said a final cause of death will be determined from autopsies, but preliminary findings indicated the couple succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator they were using to power electric heaters and appliances after being without power since Saturday’s storm.
The generator was found in their enclosed garage. Investigators also were looking into whether there was a working carbon monoxide detector in the home.
The family’s cat and dog were removed from the home alive.
“Mr. and Mrs. Stephens, by all accounts, were a robust and healthy couple,” Kearns said. “The family kept in touch with them regularly and throughout the storm and power outage. Our thoughts go out to the family as we strive to provide the answers on why this occurred.”
Kearns stressed that residents still dealing with power outages should not use combustion fuel engines or gasoline fueled generators or appliances indoors, including heaters meant for well-ventilated areas.
The discovery of the couple brought the number of deaths in New Jersey linked to the October snowstorm to six.
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