On November 11, 2004, Pete Koutrakos sobbed in front of millions of people.
He believed he’d killed his wife in a freak accident, and was struggling to forgive himself. He appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to warn other people that they could make the same mistake he did.
Four months earlier, Pete and his wife Jennifer were living in South Carolina. They had been married for a year and 10 months, and together for nine-and-a-half years. The young couple also shared their home with their beloved dogs, Zena and Champ.
On a normal morning in July, Pete got up to go to work, leaving a still sleeping Jennifer in bed. Annoyingly, his car wouldn’t start. So, in a distracted rush, Pete used jumper cables and Jennifer’s car to spark his engine. He then closed the garage door on his way out, and went to work.
What he didn’t do was turn off Jennifer’s car.
Later that afternoon, Pete became concerned when he hadn’t heard from his wife as expected. Eventually, 12 hours after he had left home, he decided to go home to check if everything was okay. He had a feeling something wasn't right.
Pete's intuition was right. When he arrived home, he found the lifeless bodies of not only his wife, but also of Zena and Champ.
At first, he didn’t realise what had happened, but then he remembered Jennifer’s running car. The family had died of carbon monoxide poisoning from the fumes of the car, which had filled the house through the door connected to the garage.
Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless, tasteless and highly poisonous gas that is emitted when natural gas or LPG burns – such as when gas heaters are operated. It’s also produced by car engines when they are running. It’s often called 'the silent killer' because victims are often unaware they are being poisoned.
Jennifer and the dogs’ deaths were ruled a tragic accident, but Pete would always blame himself. Jennifer, a restaurant manager and devout member of the Greek Orthodox Church, was just 33.
Stricken with grief and consumed with guilt, Pete told Winfrey that while he recognises on a rational level that he didn’t intentionally kill his wife, he struggles to forgive himself for his actions that day.