No charges in freezing death of Michigan man

BAY COUNTY, MICHIGAN - No criminal charges will be filed in the death of a 93-year-old Bay City man who froze inside his home after an electric utility installed a power-limiting device because of unpaid bills, a prosecutor said.

Bay County Prosecutor Kurt Asbury called Marvin Schur's death a "terrible tragedy" but said no crimes were committed.

"There is a lack of evidence that anyone involved was of aware of Mr. Schur's perilous situation in January of 2009, and that they knowingly ignored his circumstances," Asbury said in a statement.

Asbury made his decision after getting the results of a Michigan State Police investigation April 3 and a final autopsy report April 14.

Neighbors discovered Schur's body January 17 in his house about 90 miles northwest of Detroit. The windows were frosted over, icicles hung from a faucet and the World War II veteran lay dead on the bedroom floor in a winter jacket over four layers of clothing.

The autopsy showed Schur, a widower without children who lived alone, died from hypothermia with heart disease as a contributing factor. Alzheimer's disease also was noted in the findings.

On January 13, workers with Bay City Electric Light & Power, a city-owned utility, installed a "limiter" on Schur's electric meter after 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.

It appears the device tripped and cut off power to the home. It was supposed to allow for the operation of a furnace blower fan, refrigerator and some lights, Asbury said.

He said Schur's home furnace apparently was not working since October 2008, though, and Schur was relying on electric space heaters, the kitchen oven, a heating pad and a lantern for heat. The utility had no comment on the prosecutor's decision not to file charges.

Sadly, Schur had plenty of money, and, in fact, had enough cash clipped to his bills on the kitchen table when his body was found.

Asbury's office concluded that Schur was extremely independent, caring for himself and his home on his own. He had little or no support system to help care for him, with no immediate family in the area.

At the time of his death, Schur's telephone service had been disconnected due to nonpayment and he had been sent numerous shut-off notices for his Consumers Energy natural gas service and his Bay City Electric Light & Power service, according to Asbury.

Asbury cited inconsistencies about the policies and practices of the Bay City utility regarding the installation of limiter devices, but found no evidence of gross negligence.

"While one could make a reasonable argument for the fault of many people involved here, there is no one person or entity that could be held criminally responsible," Asbury said.

The outside temperature between Jan. 13 and Jan. 17 ranged from a high of 17 degrees (minus 8 Celsius) to below 0 (minus 17 Celsius), Asbury said.

Asbury said when the limiter device was installed, workers left a door-hanger shut-off notice — along with instructions either in the mailbox or on the door. The notice and instructions were found on the kitchen counter, but it is unknown if Schur reviewed the papers.

Michigan's big, state-regulated utilities are not allowed to shut off power to senior citizens in the winter. But Michigan's 41 smaller municipal utilities — Bay City's included — are not overseen by the state.

Schur's death prompted the state House to recently pass a plan, pending in the Senate, that would ban the use of limiters for elderly customers.


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