A Vietnam veteran with throat cancer froze to death in Hazel Park, Michigan, after his utilities were shut off due to outstanding debts.
The Detroit Free Press reported John Skelley, 69, was found dead in his home on Feb. 1 - just 12 days after his service was disconnected by Consumers Energy.
According to Michigan Public Service Commission spokeswoman Judy Palnau, utility companies are prohibited from from shutting off heat to homes of residents aged 65 and older during the winter.
“That doesn't mean they don't have to pay; that just means they can't be shut off," she said. "But other folks could find themselves in shutoff situations, but before they have a problem, they should contact their utility company. There are several programs that they can get on that can protect against shutoffs.”
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Consumers Energy said their records indicated a man named Joseph Mixen lived at the Hazel Park home and had an outstanding balance of $760.28 - they were unaware Skelley was living in the home.
Consumers spokeswoman Deborah Dodd said shutoff notices were sent on Dec. 18, Dec. 24 and Dec. 31, but the mail was not returned and Mixen didn’t have a phone number on record.
"It's very unfortunate," Dodd said. "We had no idea that anyone else was living with him. ... We need our customers to let us know if they're having problems, the sooner the better. We can't help you if we don't know you need help.”
Skelley’s daughter, Tanya Mitchell, told reporters that her father was suffering from throat cancer but had been out of touch with his family, who did not know where he was living.
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Skelley will receive a full military funeral, thanks to Hangin' with the Heroes, a Detroit-based organization that helps veterans.