When neighbors went inside Marvin Schur's house, the windows were frosted over, icicles hung from a faucet, and the 93-year-old World War II veteran lay dead on the bedroom floor in a winter jacket over four layers of clothing.
He froze to death – slowly and painfully, authorities say – days after the electric company installed a power-limiting device because of more than $1,000 in unpaid bills.
The old man's sad end two weeks ago has led to outrage, soul-searching and a resolve never to let something like this happen again.
“There's got to be a way in today's computer age they can find out if someone's over a certain age,” said Chad Sepos, 37, a copy machine installer who lives a block away in this Lake Huron city of 34,000 people, about 90 miles from Detroit. “It's just sad.”
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Schur, who was a medic in the South Pacific and earned a Purple Heart, appeared to have plenty of money, and, in fact, one of the neighbors who entered the home reported seeing cash clipped to a pile of bills on the kitchen table. Schur's nephew suggested the old man's mind may have been slipping.
Schur, or “Mutts,” was a retired foundry worker who lived alone, his wife having died a couple of years ago. The couple had no children.
On Jan. 13, a worker with the city-owned utility installed a “limiter” on Schur's electric meter after four months of unpaid bills. The device restricts power and blows like a fuse if usage rises past a set level. Electricity is not restored until the device is flipped back on by the homeowner, who must walk outside to the meter.
City Electric Light & Power did not contact Schur face to face to notify him of the device, instead following its usual policy by leaving a note on the door. But neighbors said Schur rarely, if ever, left the house in the cold.
At some point, the device evidently tripped and was not reset, authorities said. Schur's home was heated by a gas furnace, not electricity, but some gas furnaces do not work properly if the power is out.
Neighbors discovered Schur's body Jan. 17 in his home. The outside temperature ranged from a high of 12 degrees to a low of minus 9 on Jan. 15, the day he was believed to have died. The oven door was open, perhaps to heat the place.
City officials are reviewing their procedures and in the meantime have suspended shutoffs and removed all limiters from homes after using the devices for 18 years.
Sharon Gire, director of the Michigan Office of Services to the Aging, said Schur's death was preventable. “He was one of Michigan's most vulnerable citizens in need,” she said. “It is a tragedy that he had to suffer such a painful death.”