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Cold-Related Deaths a Chilling Reminder of Winter’s Danger

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In many parts of the country, this winter has been brutally cold and snowy. This icy weather is more than a mere annoyance or inconvenience, it can be a fatal force of nature that destroys property and ruins lives. Two recent cold-weather deaths underscore the point.

In Illinois, a bereaved family is suing a nursing home after 89-year-old Sarah Wentworth was found dead in the facility’s outdoor common area on February 5. Tragically, Ms. Wentworth froze to death in the bitter Chicago-area cold. The circumstances surrounding the incident are suspicious, as family members claim that Ms. Wentworth was too weak to have left the building on her own. No criminal charges have been filed at this time, but the facility has evidently been investigated by the Illinois Department of Public Health a dozen times in the past year.

This sad case from a nearby state brings to mind the Bay City, Michigan, man who froze to death in his own home last month. Ninety-three-year-old Marvin Schur died "a slow, painful death," according to the Oakland County medical examiner. What makes his story so shocking – indeed, worthy of the national media attention it has received – is the fact that Mr. Schur froze to death after Bay City Electric Light and Power restricted his use of electricity due to unpaid bills. The utilities provider installed a "limiting" device, which shuts off power if consumption is too high and must be reset. It is unclear whether 93-year-old Mr. Schur had been shown how to reset the device. What is clear is that the temperature in his home was below 32 degrees when his body was found.

While the young and the elderly are particularly at risk for cold-weather injuries, they can happen to anyone. Outdoor activities in chilly weather can quickly deteriorate into a fight for survival. Be alert for the signs of hypothermia and take immediate action if you suspect you or a friend is suffering from the condition.