The state of Michigan has ordered Consumers Energy to issue a report after a 69-year-old Vietnam veteran died of hypothermia when his gas was shutoff during one of the coldest months of the year.
The Detroit Free Press reported that Consumers Energy shut off the gas at the home where John Skelley was living on Jan. 19. He was found frozen to death on Feb. 1.
Although the Michigan Public Service Commission prohibits companies from shutting off heat from Nov. 1 to March 31 if there is a person older than 65 living in the home, Consumers Energy insisted that it could not have known that Skelley lived in the apartment because the bill was in someone else's name.
Consumers Energy spokesperson Deborah Dodd told the Free Press that the service had been in the name of Joseph Mixen, who had not kept up with a payment plan to resolve an outstanding $760.28 balance that dated back to March 2012.
"It's very unfortunate," Dodd remarked. "We had no idea that anyone else was living with him. ... We need our customers to let us know if they're having problems, the sooner the better. We can't help you if we don't know you need help."
"This recent Hazel Park death from apparent hypothermia is indeed tragic, and our sympathy goes out to his family, friends and all who've been affected by his loss," Consumers Energy said in a statement. "Following today's order from the Michigan Public Service Commission, we will file a report about this incident."
Skelley's daughter, Tanya Mitchell, told the World Socialist Web Site that her father had been suffering from throat cancer, and had been estranged from most of his family, who did not know where he was living.
Mitchell said that she was skeptical that Consumers Energy cared about its elderly customers, even after it responded to her father's death by setting aside $9 million in profits for heating assistance.
“I think it might be a front," she argued. "If you are sorry, why did you shut off the heat for a 69-year-old man? I understand that every business has to be concerned about profit, but they have to be concerned about the customers too. Maybe gas companies should take account of what people earn. That would be helpful.”
“I had a friend of mine say, ‘don’t shut people off in the winter, people will freeze.’ We had a problem once with DTE Energy. We went through a payment plan. But for some it is too much, they can’t meet the minimum requirements. It is hard nowadays to keep up with everything.”
The Detroit-based veterans group Hangin' with the Heroes has agreed to cover the costs of Skelley's funeral.
"This is something that was a massive undertaking for us," founder Ron Gilmour noted. "Within two hours of hearing about it, we decided on our course of action and through a lot of help and reaching out to get some publicity, we managed to make everything happen."
Consumers Energy is due to file its report on Skelley's death with the Michigan Public Service Commission by March 31.