Michigan Investigates Freezing Death of 93-Year-Old

Man froze to death days after city restricted his power use due to unpaid bills.

ByABC News
January 27, 2009, 11:24 AM

Jan. 27, 2009— -- The Michigan Attorney General's Office is reviewing the case of a 93-year-old man who died of hypothermia after a municipal power company restricted his electricity use.

Neighbors on Tuesday said they were outraged that the city power company had apparently restricted Marvin Schur's power use because of unpaid bills. Schur's body was found on the floor next to the bed inside his Bay City home Jan. 17, a few days after a limiter was installed to control his power use.

"I am just livid over this," said Jerome Anderson, 55, who lives across the street from Schur. "It's unconscionable that something like this could happen."

The Bay City mayor, Charles Brunner, said the city was removing limiters from all homes, while the city's electricity policy is reviewed. A limiter controls the amount of power used by a home and can blow out like a fuse if consumption rises past a set level. Power is not restored until the device is reset.

Brunner said the city sent multiple notices to Schur, but no one made personal contact with him to explain how the device works.

"No one's electricity will be turned off," Brunner said. "Until we come up with a policy to make sure this doesn't happen again, we're not going to turn anybody's power off."

A city commission voted Monday to raise electric rates by 3 percent as angry voters peppered city officials with questions about Schur's death, according to the Bay City Times.

Brunner said the city has never had a problem with the use of limiters in the past and only uses them after multiple mailed notices to residents. "I can't tell you how badly I feel. But there was no malice and no criminal intent," he said.

The temperature inside Schur's house was below 32 degrees and the water in the kitchen sink had frozen, said Dr. Kanu Virani, the Oakland County deputy chief medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Schur, a World War II veteran.

Virani said he believes Schur died a slow, painful death.

"He probably had a lot of burning pain in his fingers and toes. Gradually his body gave out," he said. "It takes many, many hours to come to the end."

Schur, who had no children, owed more than $1,000 to Bay City Electric Light & Power, the city's municipal power company, City Manager Robert Belleman told The Associated Press Monday. Schur's wife, a retired school teacher, died several years ago.

Calls to Bay City Electric Light & Power were referred to Belleman, who did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

But Belleman told the AP that a city utility worker had installed a limiter to restrict the use of power at Schur's home.

The limiter was tripped sometime between the time of installation and the discovery of Schur's body.

Virani said officials were investigating whether Schur, who apparently did not contact anyone to ask for help, had dementia.

Raymond Thomas, another neighbor, said he did not think the city's municipal power company should be able to restrict power usage for elderly customers who are not able to pay.

"I got a grandmother and baby here," he said. "I worry about what could happen to them."

Though uncommon, it's not unheard of for older people to freeze to death, even inside their homes. In White Lake Township, Mich., police believe an 81-year-old man froze to death over the weekend after leaving a relative's home. In December 2007, a 90-year-old woman in Kalamazoo, Mich., died of hypothermia after spending four days in her home after the power had been shut off.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 650 people died of hypothermia each year between 1999 and 2002. About half of those people were over 65 years old.