By Conor Kane
A 78-year-old retired taxi driver found dead in a house in Waterford may have been overcome by fumes from material he had been burning in his sitting-room.
A post-mortem was today carried out on the body of the man, named locally as Michael (Mick) Barden, who was found unconscious at his home at Connolly Place in Waterford city, shortly after 6.30pm.
Members of the Waterford fire service who called to his house after the alarm was raised by a neighbour about the presence of carbon monoxide broke down Mr Barden’s front door and removed him from the home. However, emergency workers’ attempts to provide CPR were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Foul play is not suspected in relation to the death. It’s understood he was burning material, possibly rubbish, in two buckets in his sitting room, and could have been overcome by fumes in the smoke given off by the fires.
There was no out-of-control fire on the scene when the fire service arrived but one neighbour reported seeing smoke pouring out of the downstairs window, when it was opened from within.
The man, who had a son and daughter and was separated from his wife for several years, was described by neighbours as a “the nicest, quietest man” who rarely left his home except to go to nearby Barrack Street for his shopping. He retired from his work as a taxi-driver a few years ago and previously worked at installing television aerials.
During good weather he would open his sitting room window and the sound of classical music, or on Sundays church music, could be heard coming from within, one man who lived nearby said.
Mr Barden lived at the terraced two-storey house on Connolly Place for several decades, having previously lived on nearby Hennessy’s Road.
It’s understood that a woman living on the road raised the alarm on Tuesday evening when her own carbon monoxide alarm went off. Fire service workers who arrived to check the area knocked on Mr Barden’s front door but got no response.
A gas worker who was despatched to the scene got a high reading on the street and the fire service returned, according to a neighbour who lives two doors away.
“They knocked and there was no answer and they took a large hammer and broke down the door,” the neighbour, Paul Lonergan, said. “They brought him straight out.”
The man was laid on the footpath while they tried to resuscitate him but he was already dead.
A garda statement said the fire services alerted gardai to the scene “shortly after 8pm” and the man was pronounced dead a short time later.
Another neighbour, living across the road, said that Mr Barden “never burned coal” but would burn whatever he had to hand, such as paper. “Maybe he fell asleep,” she suggested in relation to the tragedy.
“While the cause of the incident is unknown, we can confirm that it is not related to natural gas,” GNI said in a statement.
A garda spokesman said investigators are “keeping an open mind” in relation to the cause of the man’s death pending the outcome of the post-mortem examination, taking place yesterday at University Hospital Waterford, with toxicology tests to follow.
Asked about reports that the man may have been burning material in the house which could have caused toxic fumes, the garda said: “I wouldn’t rule it out. Fumes have to come from something.”
Another neighbour, Tommy Roche, said he knew Mick since he himself moved to Connolly Place in 1993. “I was often talking to him,” he said. “The nicest, quietest man I ever came across. As a neighbour, he never bothered anyone. He never went near anyone, except to go down to the shop on his bicycle to do his bit of shopping... He just led a quiet life. He watched a lot of television.”
He said the first he knew of the tragedy was when he looked out his window and saw two fire engines and some gardai. “The smoke was coming out the window, rather than the chimney.”