No Charges In Case Of Utility Freezing 93-Year-Old To Death

No charges will be filed in the case of a 93-year old Michigan man who froze to death after the utility company put a malfunctioning electricity limiter on his house.

The limiter deprived the house of enough juice to run the furnace and he died of the cold. CNN reports:

The prosecutor acknowledged one could reasonably argue that many people were at fault, but he said he lacked evidence to prove gross, criminal negligence including an intent to cause harm.

New evidence suggested that the man had Alzheimer’s and though he had enough cash to pay his bills, as evidenced by the money stapled to them lying around the house, he forgot to pay them due to his deteriorating mental state. There were also instructions on how to restart the limiter sitting on the man’s counter.

A needless tragedy that could have been averted had anyone come to visit the poor guy more often.

No charges in Michigan man’s freezing death [CNN]
PREVIOUSLY: Utility Freezes 93-Year-Old To Death For Overdue Bill


Edit Your Comment

  1. Skankingmike says:

    Offspring 1: “should we put dad in a home?”
    Offspring 2: “OMG I heard they torture them in those places!”

    Either take your old in or pawn them onto private business either way help them!

    • AI says:

      @Skankingmike: Sometimes you can’t. Try forcing my 90 year old Grandma into a home. Seriously, she will bite you.

      • subtlefrog says:

        @AirIntake: My grandpa got kicked OUT of a few places. I hear you. Took some sweet talking to get him back in…Hooray for cranky old italian men!

    • digitalgimpus says:

      @Skankingmike: Normally the reason children choose not to is simply because it eats away at their inheritance. Nothing to do about treatment.

      That said, it’s obviously the better choice in cases like this.

      • say what?! says:

        @digitalgimpus: what an irresponsible and broad statement! Unless you’ve done some research in this area, I doubt you know what is normal. Even if you somehow are privy to many of these situations, it doesn’t make your experience the norm.

      • juri squared says:

        @digitalgimpus: That is a sad and selfish way of doing things.

        My mother put her mother in an assisted living place, and later into the attached nursing home. It was posh and crazy expensive, which meant that it ate up every penny of my mom’s inheritance. But I know my mom didn’t care, because my grandmother had a good quality of living for her last ten years.

      • Skankingmike says:

        @digitalgimpus: I won’t put my mother or my in laws in those homes because I’d rather take care of them myself unless they require too much then I might hire a nurse than send them to a home.

      • K-Bo says:

        @digitalgimpus: I’ve heard many more stories of families scrimping and saving to be able to pay for their elderly to stay in their homes ( with in home care ) than people not putting elderly in homes to get the inheritance. Not saying it doesn’t happen, but I wouldn’t say it’s the norm.

    • PollyQ says:

      @Skankingmike: This assumes that he ever had children, and that he didn’t outlive them (not impossible if he made it to 93). The original article doesn’t mention any one way or the other.

      • corellia40 says:

        @PollyQ: That’s exactly it. According to the earlier news stories, his wife had been dead for years and they never had children.

      • Skankingmike says:

        @PollyQ: I believe a smart man said that a society is only as good as it treats its most vulnerable.

  2. clamjuice says:

    Just another example of how we as human beings are shipped out to pasture once we are past our prime, and can’t provide anything to anyone anymore.

    Something to look forward to. If anything, I think we have learned that getting old sucks.

    • ThinkerTDM says:

      @clamjuice: You mean, how we as human beings are used by companies until we can’t give them any more money, and then left to freeze.

    • heybtbm says:


      In American culture. Let’s be specific, please. Most other countries don’t have these problems. American culture is unique in it’s distain for the aged.

      • Aeroracere says:

        @heybtbm: Don’t let the low caste widows in India here you saying that…

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        @heybtbm: Well, at least you’re not guilted into it by traditional pressures and gender favoritism, like you are in China. I’d rather take care of my parents because I love them, not because I feel I owe them anything or because they expect me to – or worse, if I were a male, that they specifically wanted me to be born just so I could carry on the family name and take care of them in their old age.

        /Has been reading a lot of academic papers on China’s gender favoritism and is feeling lucky she was not raised in China.

        • Mirshaan says:

          @pecan 3.14159265:

          Hmm… I don’t know about you, but last time I checked…. I DO owe my parents something! It’s called dignity, a warm home and roof over their head, and a gentle procession into old age and eventually death. They took care of you when you couldn’t take care of yourself, right? I mean… what if they had said… “We don’t owe this baby anything. Let him/her fend for themselves.”

    • AluminumFalcon_GitEmSteveDave says:

      @clamjuice: Just put me on an ice flow and push me toward open waters when I get feeble. Or at least use me in a movie to do a really dangerous stunt.

      “You see that guy getting pushed off the building in handcuffs, and then hitting the ground? That’s grandpa!”

    • HiPwr says:

      @clamjuice: You bash us human beings, but what other species treats its elderly better?

  3. Sam Ryland says:

    It’s a terrible situation, but I agree with the judge. In any other case someone would have just called the utility to get a repair job done, who could have anticipated the faulty part? There’s a reasonable expectation that the inhabitant/s would notice and get something done about it.

    The real problem is that no-one was there for this man as he was deteriorating. Too socially isolated old people are suffering and dying for the stupidest reasons.

    • calquist says:

      @Sam Ryland: I agree. I obviously don’t know the specifics of this case, but he didn’t have any family? What about next-door neighbors?

      • nakedscience says:

        @calquist: He probably had familya nd next-door neighbors, but he also had Alzheimer’s!

      • magstheaxe says:

        @calquist: That’s what I keep wondering. Where was his family during all of this?

        • nakedscience says:

          @magstheaxe: And what if he DOESN’T have any family? Not everyone is lucky enough to have family.

          • halothane says:

            @nakedscience: I was about to say the same thing. Lots of people don’t have children (I won’t,) and the funny thing about growing old and dying is that your friends/spouse/siblings tend to start doing the same thing.

            It’s scary to think about– what’ll happen to me if my mind starts to slip and there’s no one around capable of noticing and getting me help? This is why I need to always have a young pool boy in my employ.

      • floraposte says:

        @calquist: If he was suffering some Alzheimer symptoms, he may have been increasingly cut off from people because of that as well, unfortunately.

    • Kogenta says:

      @Sam Ryland: I remember the article when it came out and I don’t remember anything about any malfunctions. In fact, I seem to recall that the limiter was doing exactly what it was supposed to do. IIRC guy was trying to heat his house with his oven instead of the furnace which is what probably sent the power draw over the limit.

      Maybe I’m wrong though, it was a while ago that this happenned.

  4. Featherstonehaugh says:

    Who on earth *would* you charge in this terrible situation?

    • bombhand says:

      @Featherstonehaugh: Somebody, anybody, everybody, just to get a sense that something’s being done because you can’t or don’t want to address the real issue at the root of the tragedy.

      • MauriceCallidice says:

        @bombhand: “Somebody, anybody, everybody, just to get a sense that something’s being done” is like justifying something by saying “but it’s for the children” or “if it saves even one life…”

        It’s an appeal to emotion, rather than reason.

        If there’s somebody legally at fault, charge them. If not, we shouldn’t just lash out wildly because we’re upset at what happened. Sometimes bad things happen. In this case, it seems like a series of bad things happened which led to something even worse happening. Sadly, a man’s dead as the result of that series of events. However, that doesn’t mean that anyone did anything particularly wrong.

  5. JamieSueAustin says:


  6. Gramin says:

    A couple things bother me about this story. First, the city-run utility was exempt from a law prohibitting privately owned utilities from shutting down service during the winter. Had a privately owned utility commited this atrocity, I’m sure the boys at city hall would have been screaming for an investigation and fines. Second, the man had sufficient money stapled to his bills dating back to 2007. Clearly, he was financially stable. I wonder if his kin aren’t too upset about this because it sounds like they just got a nice payday. The man was 93 and suffered from alzheimers. Seems like his death might not have been too difficult to accept.

    • Saltillopunk says:

      @Gramin: The question is, did the family know he suffered from alzheimers? That is not made clear in the article. It was stated that no immediate family lived near him and that investigators found him to be extremely independent(?). It could be the symptoms were just beginning to manifest in which case, no one may have been aware of his condition in order to assist him.

      • 99bandito says:


        An even bigger question…was there family at all? This poor guy may have been on his own, forgotten, and then frozen. What a sad way to go.

        Which is why I think we should be able to throw toasters in the pool at the YMCA during senior water aerobics. It would sovle all sorts of issues like this before they become a problem.

  7. Riff Raff says:

    Going out Kevorkian style is looking better every day. I’ll be damned if I have to revert back to diapers or get tossed in a disease-ridden cesspool retirement home.

    I have seen my fair share already of poor, deteriorating seniors, and I fear I will see more very soon as my grandparents succumb to the same fate. Not allowing them the choice to go out with dignity is both insulting and inhumane, both to the senior and their family/friends.

    I’d rather die purposefully in my sleep rather than freezing to death alone.

  8. Ronin-Democrat says:

    um, isn’t there a suit against the manufacturer for the malfunctioning limiter?

    oh how nice, government refuses to prosecute itself.

    where was social services?
    shouldn’t they have been involved when a 93 isn’t paying his bills?

    did any of that money laying around end up in cop/utility worker/ambulance worker pockets?
    I’m not saying anything, I’m just saying.

    • Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg says:

      @Ronin-Democrat: um, isn’t there a suit against the manufacturer for the malfunctioning limiter?

      None that I’ve heard of. More to the point though, there’s no eidence I’m aware of that the limiter malfunctioned. Do you have any links with more information?

    • Gramin says:


      Consumerist needs to do a better job reading the story. The limiter didn’t malfunction. It was set to be tripped at 10 amps if the house owner was late on payments. As noted in the story, this practice is illegal for privately-owned utilities, however, since this was a city-run utility, it was exempt from that law.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @Ronin-Democrat: Just cause you’re 93 doesn’t mean you’re an invalid. Unfortunately, this guy wasn’t monitored, and he happened to be incapable of taking care of himself. But other 93 year olds are perfectly capable.

    • Gramin says:


      And, as I mentioned in my original post, the city would have went after the utility if it was privately owned. Since this was run by the city, of course they’re not filing charges. Prosecutor probably has hopes for another public office and doesn’t want to buck the system.

  9. Gramin says:

    Consumerist… please do a better job reading the story so you don’t provide incorrect information. The limiter was not faulty. Upon reaching 10 amps, the limiter cut-off service to the house. The limiter was installed because the owner was late on several payments. While I disagree with the installation of the limiter, you’re implying the manufacturer could be liable due to a faulty device. That is not the case. Please correct your mistake and please have a little more diligence when reading stories before providing us with inaccurate information.

  10. Saboth says:

    Guess he should have signed up for online billpay.

  11. cwsterling says:

    reading this story tells me that if I am ever to create my own energy company, I am going to get somebody to code a routine into my programs that will check to make sure even a little bit of energy is being used each day.

    When you go on vacation, how many of you actually unplug EVERYTHING I mean running the fridge used 4KW where I am living the other day, and it was a fridge and a clock.

    Back on topic, if no energy was used, I would look into calling the person. (in my mind, I would be a very people friendly company)

  12. bloggerX says:

    Did this poor gentleman have any relatives?

    He could have lived past 100 years…

    • babyruthless says:

      @bloggerX: Would the seven extra years have been quality? He had severe enough Alzheimer’s that he was stapling cash to bills, and not paying them. Also, he was apparently trying to heat the house with his oven (?)

      It is clearly a tragedy, and no one should freeze to death, and I am not trying to minimize that. However, I’m not sure that wishing seven more years of dementia on anyone is a great thing, either.

      • bloggerX says:

        @babyruthless: Oh, he had Alzheimer’s, I did not know that.

      • floraposte says:

        @babyruthless: Quality of life with Alzheimer’s is really variable. At my father’s retirement community there are people who still enjoy quite a few things despite their impairment, and people who, sadly, don’t. It’s hard to know without knowing the person.

    • SlappySquirrel says:

      @bloggerX: I’d say that depends on how one defines “living.”

      Though I get that reasonable people can disagree on the “dying with dignity” debate, I personally don’t want to live for seven years so clueless that I don’t get that stapling money to my bills doesn’t pay them.

  13. vladthepaler says:

    Is there a lawyer in the house? I’m curious about “negligence including an intent to cause harm”. I’d have thought that by definition, negligence would lack such an intent; how can one intend to cause harm and happen to do so negligently? I’d think that either negligence would cause unintentional harm (as in this case), or deliberate action would cause intended harm.

  14. dialing_wand says:

    Here in Quebec, if you’re a non-paying customer but use electricity to heat your primary residence not only will they NOT disconnect in the winter, but they are obligated to reconnect your service should it have been disconnected and you’re still living there come winter again.


    Despite all the crap we put up with here, our government owned and operated electrical utility is a shining star more often than not.

    • Saboth says:


      Yeah, but this is America. Corporations run the government, and if you can’t afford healthcare/heat/etc, you just die.

      • dave_coder says:

        @Saboth: So just a question: If you no longer can pay for the electricity coming to your house what makes you think you’re entitled to it? You do realize that someone has to pay for it.

        • nakedscience says:

          @dave_coder: So…we should have people freeze to death instead, then, right?

          • ATimson says:

            @nakedscience: If they can’t afford to keep up their current living situation‚Äîloan/rent and utilities‚Äîthen it’s incumbent upon the resident(s) to fix that. Other people shouldn’t have to pay for their financial misjudgment.

      • HIV 2 Elway says:

        @Saboth: In this case it was a city run utility but nice of you to work in your anti-jobs rhetoric.

    • tange1 says:

      @dialing_wand: Same is true in Pennsylvania – even if its a privately owned utility.

  15. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    Guess this is one time when we can say China has a better way of dealing with this… Generally, the elderly live with their adult children and participate fully in the extended family…

  16. karmaghost says:

    New evidence suggested that the man had Alzheimer’s and though he had enough cash to pay his bills…

    Well there was obviously something wrong with him if he froze to death and didn’t/couldn’t do anything about it.

  17. 5WheelerFun says:

    Having worked for a utility company for several years and seeing several cycles of winter and summer, I was able to see how many customers game the system. We had a company policy of not shutting off power for nonpayment if temps were predicted to be over/under a certain degree to avoid heatstroke/freezing in houses. Most customers that were habitually delinquent used that policy to not pay during summer or winter. Should we have been required to send a representative to those houses to verify that they were deadbeats instead of elderly? I will agree that this was a tragic situation, however, it does seem a little foolish that the neighbors were quoted in the original article saying that “he had dementia” and that “We’re a small enough town where someone like Marvin should get a little bit extra care”. If it was such a small town,and they knew there was a problem, why didn’t the neighbors take on the responsibility of checking on him? At the very least they could have called the utility and told them about the dementia so that a social agency could have become involved. This seems a little like they didn’t want to be bothered until after the fact and now they want to blame the utility for essentially doing their job, which is collect payment for a product.

  18. Bobg says:

    Thanks for the post. I’ll be very careful to avoid going to Michigan.

  19. stands2reason says:

    A 93 year-old suffering from Alzheimer’s with apparently no one to call or no one looking after him? I don’t see how it is fair to fault the utility company.