Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

Holiday Tragedy: Elderly Michigan Woman Dies After Power Cut

USA: Ninety-year-old Phyllis Willett was found on the floor of her home in Vicksburg, Michigan, holding her 63-year-old daughter in her arms, and both were wrapped in blankets and coats.

The room temperature in the house registered nearly 20 degrees which was the same as it was outside the home. It was eight days before Christmas when the social worker arrived at the home to deliver medication to the mentally disabled daughter who lived with Mrs. Willett. On this particular day, no one answered the door, so the social worker entered.

The social worker learned that the house had been without electricity for four days and a window in the kitchen was open. An electricity shut-off notice was on Willett’s table. American Electric Power had shut off Willet's electricity for failure to pay (she was three months late in the amount of $225), and the company is investigating to make sure it followed the conditions filed with the Michigan Public Service Commission.

An American Electric Power spokesman said Willett received notification of a pending shut-off on her bill on Nov. 21 and a reminder by phone on Dec. 10. Electricity at the woman's Vicksburg home was cut off Dec. 13. "We feel that we complied, but we are doing our own investigation," said a company spokesman.

The elderly woman was unconscious when she and her daughter were taken to Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo on Dec. 17. Her daughter managed to survive. Willett died four days later. She suffered from exposure, frost bite and hypothermia-induced pneumonia, according to her nephew, Alex Weddon. She was buried at Riverside Cemetery in Kalamazoo.

The women couldn't have called for help because the telephone also had been shut off due to non-payment. The spokesman from the electric company said customers who register for a low-income, heating-assistance program are placed on a winter moratorium and will not have their electricity disconnected. There was nothing on record showing that Willett had been registered for the program. Customers whose bills are in arrears are notified of a shut-off date about 30 days in advance, he said, and there is no record of any communications between the company and Willett.

Family members question why someone from the electric company didn't notice Willett's car in the driveway or try to approach Willett in person before shutting off the electricity. "How many other people get their power shut off in December?" Alex Weddon said.

"Is there some kind of mechanism or Plan B? If there's someone living in a house who is elderly, frail or handicapped, there should be some kind some of safety net." I & M (Indiana Michigan Power, a unit of American Electric Power) is conducting a comprehensive investigation of the circumstances involved with Ms. Willett's account.

Willett studied voice at Western Michigan University and worked briefly as a secretary to the superintendent of Comstock Public Schools before spending most of her life as a homemaker. Her husband was a machinist and died about 15 years ago. She had two other children who died in early childhood.

Alleged safety nets apparently failed this elderly woman and her disabled daughter, as it does countless American citizens who have no apparent rights to decent living conditions. There is an abundance of resources in the trillions of dollars to conduct wars abroad, maintain troops abroad and destroy and bomb other countries while US citizens freeze to death and suffer without the basic necessities to maintain life.