An oxygen machine was keeping an ailing woman alive. Then the power company shut off her electricity.
The diagnosis for Linda Daniels was not good. Congestive heart failure struck in mid-April, and the Newark woman was waiting for the inevitable. A hospice nurse told the 68-year-old's family Daniels would pass away "in God's time," relatives recently told New Jersey's News 12.
But the circumstances surrounding Daniels' death last week were not tied to her ailments alone, according to her family. Last Thursday, July 5, as the summer temperature reportedly shot into the 90s, Daniels's electricity was cut off by the local power company, PSE&G. Daniels, whose condition required her to use an electric oxygen machine to breathe, was suddenly without the technology keeping her alive.
As NJ.com reported, Daniels died seven hours after her home's power was cut.
"She was trying to catch her breath - she was gasping for air," Daniels's granddaughter told NJ.com. "She suffered and she passed right in front of us. She was gasping until the time she died."
According to the Daniels family, the power went out - not only knocking out the oxygen machine but the house's air conditioning - at around 10 a.m. Thursday. The family then used a smaller reserve tank, ABC 7 reported. When the unit ran out, EMS was called to the house. They brought a mobile oxygen machine. But Daniels still died at 4:23 p.m.
In the hours between, family members rushed to cool down the failing patient.
"We were getting ice and we were putting ice on her, fanning her, trying to make it cool," a family member explained to News 12. "But we couldn't pump the oxygen."
PSE&G has confirmed service was shut off at Daniels's residence due to a lack of payment. Since May, the account owed around $1,800, according to ABC 7.
"As part of our policy, PSE&G had notified this customer numerous times that their account was in arrears and that they would be scheduled for a service termination unless the account was made current," Jim Namiotka, a PSE&G spokesman, told NJ.com.
Daniels' family, however, disputes her payments were behind to the point necessitating a shutdown.
Her son Sam told News 12 the company had told him payments of at least $300 a month were required to keep the power flowing. He showed the television statements indicating a $500 payment went to the company at the beginning of July toward Daniels' delinquent account.
"They still cut off the utilities," he told News 12. Daniels's son claimed the family had no prior notice the power would be cut off.
"If there was anything in the mail, we may have missed it due to all the complications of running back and forth to the hospital and all the doctor's appointments," he said.
According to Daniels's daughter Desiree Washington, on Thursday various members of the family tried to alert the power company about Daniels's precarious situation.
"We made numerous calls," Washington told NJ.com. "We have a large family and everyone in our family was calling."
She added: "We panicked. They cut the power off on what had to be the hottest day of the summer."
According to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, consumers must be notified in writing of a discontinuation of service ten days before the cancellation. A utility also "may not shut-off residential service" if a "valid medical emergency exists" in the household.
PSE&G spokesman Namiotka told NJ.com the Daniels's family did not tell the company about Daniels's illness until the power was already cut.
"We are reviewing our records to determine what transpired," Namiotka told NJ.com. "We encourage customers who have medical issues to contact us so that we can note their circumstances on their accounts."
On Friday morning, the day after Daniels's death, power returned to the house.
"The point is they turned her lights off after she paid the bill," Washington told NJ.com. "And she's a senior. And there are a lot of people like her."
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Story by Kyle Swenson. Swenson is a reporter with The Washington Post's Morning Mix team. He previously worked at the New Times Broward-Palm Beach and Cleveland Scene.