Tuesday, August 03, 1999

Two more deaths drive heat toll to 14


Women had no air conditioning

BY ERIN GIBSON and MARK CURNUTTE
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Two more deaths were classified as heat-related Monday by the Hamilton County Coroner's Office, bringing Greater Cincinnati's toll to 14.

        Both victims, Mildred Hayes, 69, of Winton Terrace and Alma William, 82, of South Cumminsville, had fans but no working air conditioner. Both lived alone, but relatives and friends had kept in daily contact with them during the July heat wave that included 12 days of temperatures above 90 degrees.

        Ms. Hayes lived in public housing on Craft Street in Winton Terrace and was afraid to open her windows, said her sister, Grace Hill. Her death is the only heat-related death to occur in public housing.

        Mrs. Hill talked with her sister Saturday morning and urged her to open a window.

        “She was nervous,” Mrs. Hill said. “She had a fan, but they don't work so good when you've got the windows down.”

        Ms. Hayes was found dead Saturday evening. Her nephew hadn't seen her in a day and became alarmed because he couldn't reach her by phone, coroner's spokesman Terry Daly said.

        A firefighter used a ladder to climb into her second-story window about 7:45 p.m. Ms. Hayes was found in her bed.

        She had been dead about eight hours, and her core temperature had cooled to 102 degrees, Mr. Daly said. The temperature in her bedroom was 99.7 degrees.

        Her sister said Ms. Hayes kept to herself, and left her home only to go to the store. She was a member of Southern Baptist Church in Avondale, but attended infrequently. Her two grown children live in Washington, D.C..

        “She didn't like to do too much,” Mrs. Hill said.

        Mrs. Hill said she can't walk well, so she hadn't visited her sister in Winton Terrace for about two years. They talked on the phone each day.

        Winton Terrace is classified as a family community by the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA).

        Family communities do not have central air conditioning or window units. Residents can install their own window unit and pay an extra $27 a month for three months to cover the higher electric bill, said CMHA Executive Director Donald Troendle.

        Ms. Hayes, 69, was eligible to live in one of CMHA's 11 senior apartments, all of which are air-conditioned, Mr. Troendle said. The eligibility age for residence in a senior complex is 55.

        Throughout the heat emergency, CMHA staff worked overtime to keep up with resident concerns about heat or air conditioning, he said. Nine of CMHA's senior apartment complexes have window units; two have central air.

        “Our property management people were checking in on residents,” Mr. Troendle said. “We do know she (Ms. Hayes) had a fan but preferred to keep her windows closed.”

        The other heat victim, Mrs. William, also was checked on often. Virginia Marshall, her best friend of 35 years, rented Mrs. William the apartment on the second floor of her home.

        Mrs. Marshall said her friend had three fans, but had complained Saturday that her air conditioner wasn't working well.

        Mrs. Marshall believes that Mrs. William was getting ready to go to church Sunday when she died. A man who came to take her to the First Baptist Church of Cumminsville found her dead in her bathtub at 10:30 a.m.

        He knocked on her door, and when there was no answer, he asked Mrs. Marshall to let him in the apartment.

        Mrs. Marshall thought her friend was just sleeping in her large, claw-foot bathtub, so she poured a glass of water on her to wake her up. She was curled in a fetal position, Mrs. Marshall said.

        When her friend didn't awaken, Mrs. Marshall touched her. Her body was hot and she wasn't breathing. Mrs. Marshall called 911.

        Mr. Daly said Mrs. William's core body temperature was 107.5 degrees when she was found. She had a history of heart disease, which might have contributed to her death. Cause-of-death investigations continued Monday, he said.

Federal aid buys cooling units



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