Kerosene Heater Lands Woman In Jail

By ED GALLEK, 19/43 News Reporter

NEWBURGH HEIGHTS, Ohio - You expect people to go to jail for drugs, but a Newburgh Heights woman is locked up because of fumes from her kerosene heater.

Is she a criminal or a victim?

Her crime -- fumes from her kerosene heater -- made some of her neighbors sick. For that she was sentenced to 10 days in jail.

Now the debate is on. Is it justice or punishment that's way too tough.

On Nov. 3, people got sick in a Newburgh Heights apartment building from Elizabeth Johnson's kerosene heater.

"I would have just tried to ignore it and gone to sleep, and I would've died if I'd been here alone," neighbor Susan Gotlieb said.

Gotlieb and three other people went to the hospital. Investigators charged Johnson with offensive odors.

Johnson had been warned about the problem by firefighters the night before. Now, she has to do 10 days in jail.

"In her condition, she's not suitable or stable to be in anybody's jail," Johnson's daughter Vida said.

Vida said that she thinks her mother's punishment was too harsh, partly because Elizabeth is partially paralyzed from strokes.

She pled no contest, but her family believes that she was confused in court, and someone else turned on the heater that night because Elizabeth wasn't home.

"I personally think somebody went into her place, turned on her kerosene heater and started the whole situation," Vida said.

The family said that she used the heater because the landlord turned off her gas. The landlord, Jack Droske, said that Elizabeth was way behind on her rent and heating bills.

"She was told by the police not to use that space heater, and she continued to use it," Droske said. "She could have killed some people if that thing would have got going."

Judge Deborah Nicastro agreed with Droske, saying that's why she sent Elizabeth to jail, but her family is now asking the judge to change the sentence and make it community service.

The judge, who said that she thinks the heaters are dangerous, said that she'll think about changing the sentence.