News 9 Investigates: Torch Fuel Kills Oklahoma Toddler

Thursday, November 15th 2012, 11:14 pm
By: News 9

A News 9 investigation finds children are being killed and critically injured because their parents believe they are mistaking a dangerous product for apple juice.

Children across the country are grabbing bottles of tiki torch fuel because it looks so much like apple juice. Now, an Oklahoma two-year-old is dead and numerous children across the country have been injured because for them, this warning comes too late.

There are a lot of smiles at Bettsy Bumpas' home. Her children, Jaret and Eadyn fill the house with joy.  Bettsy's youngest son is missing from this table.

Bettsy said Jhonethyn was full of life.  He was very energetic and playful. He was excited about his two year birthday party at an Oklahoma campsite.  On June 9th, 2009 Jhonethyn took a big bite of cake surrounded by family and tiki torches.  His mother used them because the flame carries bug repellant. Instead she said the bottle of torch fuel would lure her son to his death.

Betsy purchased HOC manufactured Island Party fuel, unaware that one year earlier New Jersey Poison control sent out a dire warning to residents that four children had been injured and an elderly woman had died after mistaking torch fuel for apple juice. Jhonethyn climbed on top of this picnic table grabbed the bottle and drank it too. Bettsy can still hear his father scream. Can still feel her world crashing down around her in the ER.

"Every time a nurse would open the door, we would beg them to tell us what was going on," Bettsy said. "He was scared and I can imagine in intense pain and they pushed us out of the room."

That was the last time Bettsy saw her son alive. Bettsy has settled a lawsuit against HOC claiming product packaging put her son at grave risk. Claims against torch fuel makers have also been filed following the death of a child in Iowa and injuries in Ponca City, Tulsa and Florida. 

Attorney John Branum said, "You put that in a clear plastic container in the shape of a juice bottle and you scent it and color it to look like juice.  It's a really, really dangerous situation."

We obtained Consumer Product Safety Commission documents with page after page of child injuries but so far, torch fuel makers have refused to bottle their products in non-see through packaging. HOC testified the move would cost them little or nothing.  News 9 found similar looking torch fuel products.  The fuel was at floor level, easily in the reach of children.

Bettsy said,  "I'll miss knowing they are going to miss out on that experience of having the baby brother at home."

Desperate for change, Bettsy Bumpas filed a petition asking the government to demand non-see through torch fuel container. In the meantime, she wants families to know the product is now cloaked in a package that can set off a devastating chain of events.

"Obviously there isn't anything I can do about Jhonethyn," Bettsy said. "He's gone. But just the idea that we could prevent families from sitting outside another emergency room waiting for their child to die."

Since our interview with Bettsy Bumpas, her request before the Consumer Product Safety Commission for a package change was denied. The agency said they were only aware of one incident where the fuel was in its original container and therefore, "...cannot determine see through packaging... is more attractive to children."

As for that metro store that had the product here at floor level  the manager moved his fuel to higher shelves immediately after our call. And the national chain tells me they will now monitor torch fuel injuries as they consider whether to carry the product in the future.

HOC did not return our calls