Fiery death an accident - ruling

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 09:16 06/10/2012

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The death of a woman who lit herself on fire by dousing her body in turps and lighting a match has been ruled an accident, with a coroner saying her actions were probably a cry for help gone wrong.

Palmerston North sickness beneficiary Jean McIntyre, 37, died in an Auckland hospital on November 18 last year because of severe burns.

The morning before she set herself alight at her Kelvin Grove house and was found by the fire service - on fire - on her lawn.

After an inquest into the death, Palmerston North Coroner Tim Scott decided it was an accident, rather than suicide.

Her hopes for the future and her Catholic faith meant it was unlikely she would take her own life.

McIntyre had poured turps over her clothing and lit a match.

At the time she was filling her bath, which suggested she was going to douse the flames once they took hold by splashing water over herself or getting into the bath, Scott said in a report released yesterday.

"I think she meant to set herself alight but she did not mean her injuries to be as severe as they were, certainly she did not mean them to be fatal," he said.

"Pretty much everybody knows that you do not spill [turps] over yourself and then light a match close to yourself."

Fire safety inspector John Hotter said the flames would have taken hold within 10 seconds - probably quicker than McIntyre had thought.

Scott said McIntyre likely panicked, took off her burning shirt and dressing gown, and ran outside.

At some point she called emergency services.

"This is not the thing one would expect from someone who set about to take their own life," Scott said.

"What happened can only have been a cry for help or a statement gone wrong."

Scott ruled out the involvement of anyone else and said several "unusual things" were found inside her house.

There were notes addressed to people saying certain items could be taken by them, there was clothing in a bag with a note saying "for the funeral director in the event that it is needed" and a recently drafted will.

McIntyre lived alone and was a qualified school teacher. Although she wasn't working she was hoping to re-register.

She also suffered seizures and fits possibly linked to a rare brain tumour.

Scott said she was a private person who was "often mistrustful of others".

At the time of the death, neighbour Karen Ennis told the Manawatu Standard that McIntyre was a recluse.

"She spends a lot of time in the house with everything shut up," she said.

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- Manawatu Standard

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