Marvin Schur’s neighbors found the World War II veteran’s frozen body in his Bay City bedroom on January 17, four days after a device that regulates how much power he uses — installed because of failure to pay — shut off his power. A medical examiner said the temperature was 32 degrees in his house when Schur’s body was found.
Utility officials said Schur owed at least $700, but Schur’s nephew, William Wallworth, said his uncle told him he was worth at least a half-million dollars, and authorities say Schur had cash clipped to his utility bills on his kitchen table.
Wallworth believes the utility company should have looked at Schur’s payment history and made direct contact to see whether something was wrong. Schur had been living alone since his wife died more than a year ago. Wallworth says his uncle was someone who always paid his bills, but in the last year, things started changing. Wallworth, who lives in Ormond Beach, Florida, said he had trouble reaching his uncle since last year and says his uncle had trouble hearing him on the phone.
Local and state officials agree that Schur’s death was avoidable. It’s prompted a review of Bay City Electric Light & Power’s rules and procedures for limiting or cutting off power. Unlike private utilities regulated by the state, Bay City runs and oversees its own utilities and therefore doesn’t fall under Michigan’s public service commission. By law, Michigan requires private companies to prohibit cutting off service to senior citizens between November and April. Seniors must register for the program.
It appears no one from the utility company had personal contact with Schur, in phone or in person. Selek says Schur’s case is being reviewed and depending on the results, his death could prompt state laws to also require oversight of city-run utilities. The city has begun questioning whether its rules and procedures for limiting or cutting off power need a major overhaul. The utility has stopped its practice of cutting power to customers who don’t pay their bills, the utility’s acting director, Philip Newton, told CNN. Recently, that had been happening as often as 200 times a week.
The utility also has removed all “limiters”– devices that cut power as a warning for people who’ve been ignoring their bills. Limiters can be reset to restore a lesser degree of power until a bill payment is worked out. In Schur’s case, the limiter was never reset, and it’s unclear whether he knew how to do that.
Bay City’s Manager Robert Belleman admits seniors who may be confused or in no condition to venture outside to reset a limiter in freezing temperatures need extra supervision. At Bay City’s request, the Michigan State Police are investigating Schur’s death for possible criminal violations.
In Colorado, XcelEnergy customers can view information about help with their energy bills on the company website. State and local agencies, low-income advocates and Xcel Energy’s personal accounts department work together to help customers with bill payment problems and gain access to weatherization services for their homes.