Elderly New York Couple Dies After Not Being Able To Call For Help

PHOTO: Madeleine and Arthur Morris
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They hadn't used their cellphones in more than a month.

Not one outbound call.

Not one number in their phone log.

Until last week, when an elderly Manhattan couple tried to call for help nine times after driving their car into a ditch near their Catskill Mountains cottage in upstate New York.

Not one call got through due to spotty cell service, leading the couple of 50 years to their tragic deaths.

"It's a very awful story," Capt. James Barnes of the New York State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation said. "They were on their way back to the city from their residence, literally only 75 yards down the driveway."

On May 3, Arthur and Madeline Morris were leaving their vacation home in Andes, N.Y., when he accidentally drove their Ford Fusion into the 15-foot ditch.

According to Captain Barnes, Arthur, 88, tried to climb out of the vehicle to seek help. When he got out of the car, he fell into an 8-inch space between the door and the ground, and died from asphyxiation.

That's when his wife, Madeline, 89, attempted to call 911 one more time.

"At first it was 911, then she was trying to get ahold of a neighbor, a handyman who had done work on their house before," grandson Jeantet Fields said. "How is it we're in one of the wealthiest and most developed places in the world with no cell coverage?"

Police reports say Madeline then got out of the vehicle and walked the quarter mile to her neighbor's house. No one was home, and she sought refuge underneath a tarp on the porch.

When police arrived the next day, she was dead.

"She was 89 years old and couldn't handle that type of cold throughout the night," Fields said. "She died of exposure."

The elderly couple lived with Fields and his family in an upper West Side brownstone—four generations on the various floors.

"We're accustomed to hearing 'Jeopardy' through the ceiling. It's definitely going to be quiet now," Fields said. "My wife would always take our 6-month-old downstairs to spend time with her great-grandma. We're going to miss them."

Fields says his father, Robert Fields, referred to his parents as an inseparable pair of world travelers, enjoying their retired lives venturing to upstate New York.

Arthur was a Julliard-educated music teacher. Madeline a retired professor who survived Nazi reign in France.

"When an elderly person dies, it's said that a library goes up in flames. Those were my grandparents," Fields said. "There's so much that they taught me that speaks to a broader lesson."

Fields, who pays for the family's AT&T cellphone plans, says the family doesn't intend on pursuing legal action against the company. He just hopes a lesson can be learned.

"I cried it out. It's hard. But I hope this is a warning for more cellphone coverage in the area," Fields said.

The couple's memorial service will be held at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church on Saturday.

Their 49th wedding anniversary would have been celebrated next month.

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