73-year-old Landlord to pay $5000 to grieving family

By Kristin Edge

Lesley Wehi-Jack was a talented and much loved member of her family who was making her way in the world when she was killed by a gas explosion. Photo/Supplied
Lesley Wehi-Jack was a talented and much loved member of her family who was making her way in the world when she was killed by a gas explosion. Photo/Supplied

Money saved on the DIY installation of a gas cooker by a Northland landlord cost teenager Lesley Wehi-Jack her life.

The 19-year-old died from burns after the rented Ruakaka home she had been in for five days exploded when a spark from a switch ignited gas that had leaked from the stove.

The explosion rocked nearby houses in Tamure Drive on February 11 last year. Miss Wehi-Jack stumbled out still conscious but with burns covering 70 per cent of her body.

A neighbour hosed her down with water until an ambulance arrived but she died less than 24 hours later.

Yesterday, retiree Peter John McLeod, 73, appeared in Whangarei District Court and was sentenced to six months' home detention and ordered to pay $5000 reparation to the family.

McLeod pleaded guilty to undertaking an unauthorised gas fitting, failing to take all practicable steps to ensure that gas appliances were safe and completing gas work where not authorised to do so.

The charges were brought by Energy Safety, part of WorkSafe NZ, and carry a maximum penalty of two years in prison or a $100,000 fine.

McLeod, a registered drainlayer, had personally installed the gas cooker - work that by law has to be done by a licensed gasfitter.

Energy Safety manager Mark Wogan said Ms Wehi-Jack's death was completely avoidable and a tragic waste of a young life.

"When Lesley rented the house, she had every right to assume that it was safe to live in.

"If Mr McLeod had followed the law and got a qualified gasfitter in to install the cooker she would probably still be alive today. It is that simple," Mr Wogan said. "The consequences of risk-taking with gas and electricity can be catastrophic. Doing the work yourself, or on the cheap, is simply not worth it."

He said McLeod must live with the consequences of his actions.

In court Miss Wehi-Jack's uncle, Dion Stone, read his victim impact statement to the court and told McLeod it was hard for the family not to be angry with him.

"You took our loved one from us.

"She was our taonga, she was a gift, she was our precious person that you have taken away," he told McLeod, who sat in the dock with his head bowed.

Members of her family including a brother and sister filled the public gallery and sang a song to complete their part in sentencing.

In a probation report, a remorseful McLeod had said he accepted responsibility for Miss Wehi-Jack's death.

"I think about this poor little girl each night".

Judge Keith de Ridder said in the mid-90s, McLeod had built the house and installed the gas himself. The house was moved on to another section and the gas installations remained.

Mcleod had lived in the house with his wife until 2011 when he went to Christchurch to help with the rebuild.

The house was then rented but, before tenants moved in, McLeod removed the cooker, had it checked then reinstalled it himself.

- Northern Advocate

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