Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Marvin Schur, a 93-year-old man from Bay City, Michigan has died after the electric company limited his electric use due to his failure to pay over US$1,000 in past-due payments.
Bay City Electric Light & Power installed a power-limiting device on his home on January 13. The device would limit the amount of power the resident uses and would essentially shut it off if that limit is reached, or if the resident fails to pay the outstanding bill within 10 days of installation. In order for the electricity to be turned back on, the limiter must be reset by pushing a button.
Bay City power says that a warning, indicating that the power was to be turned off and a limiter installed, had been placed on Schur’s front door. Despite that, the company says that they are now “looking at our website and possibly doing an automated phone message. We obviously need to get the word out.”
The autopsy performed on Schur’s body concluded that he had died “a slow, painful death” caused by hypothermia. Dr. Kanu Virani, who performed the autopsy, explained: “Hypothermia shuts the whole system down, slowly. It’s not easy to die from hypothermia without first realizing your fingers and toes feel like they’re burning.”
It was less than 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 Centigrade) in Schur’s home when neighbors found Schur dead on January 17. Virani commented that it was his first time performing an autopsy on a body in which “the person froze to death indoors.”
“His furnace was not running – the insides of his windows were full of ice the morning we found him,” said George A. Pauwels Jr., who was with his wife when they found Schur’s body.
In Michigan it is illegal for a utility company to disconnect power to any home between November 1 and March 31 when a resident is over the age of 65. Limiters are also not supposed to be used during that time frame. However, municipally-owned electric utilities like the one in Bay City, are not regulated by the state. The Michigan state attorney general’s office has launched an investigation into the incident.
Residents around Schur’s home say he was hard of hearing, and the city states that the device’s function and operation were never explained to him. When word of the story got around, people from all over the United States began to call the city in anger.
“I’ve taken calls from Canada, Massachusetts, Texas, New York, Alabama – and that’s just the ones I can think of off the top of my head,” said Melody Roth of the city’s administrative office, who also added that people from all over are “calling all city departments, not just our office.”
Schur has no known children, and his wife had died several years prior to the incident.