Gov. Phil Murphy and the state’s Board of Public Utilities have launched an investigation into the death of Newark resident, 68-year-old Linda Daniels, who died after Public Service Electric & Gas Co. shut off power to her home for delinquent payments.
Daniels, who died on July 5 due to congestive heart failure, was receiving hospice care and required a working respirator in her home. When the power was shut off the previous day at the peak of the most intense heat wave of the year, her respirator could not work.
According to a statement by Daniels’ daughter, Desiree Washington, family members called PSE&G’s customer service throughout the day, only to be told to stop calling. She also said that Daniels had made a $500 payment towards the utility bill the day before. Power was restored to the home the day after Daniels died, said Washington.
Washington and her family plan to consult with attorneys on Daniels’ death.
A PSE&G spokesperson said that the utility company was unaware of Daniels’ medical condition – despite having made two visits to the house since January – and that power would not have been shut off had PSE&G officials known about Daniels’ medical condition.
“As a company we make it a practice to accommodate customers with special circumstances,” said the company statement. “We have reviewed our records dating back to 2012 and there is no indication by the customer of a medical condition in the home prior to disconnection. We never would have disconnected service had we been informed of the circumstances…Our records indicate that this account was severely in arrears and we made at least 26 attempts to notify the customer since January 2018, including two visits to the residence prior to the disconnection.”
A BPU statement said an investigation surrounding Daniels’ death has begun.
“BPU is investigating the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Linda Daniels at her home in Newark. As part of our investigation we are in the process of gathering all appropriate information in order to determine how this could have occurred.”
Murphy, in an emailed statement to NJBIZ, vowed that appropriate action will be taken based on the results of the investigation.
“I offer my deep condolences to the family of Linda Daniels as my administration investigates her tragic death. The health and safety of New Jersey residents is our top priority and we will work with the appropriate state agencies to determine next steps based on the results of the investigation,” said Murphy.
The NAACP, after issuing a report earlier this year about the dangers of shutting off power due to delinquent payments, is backing a petition on Daniels’ behalf demanding that the state pass laws to prevent future similar deaths.
According to BPU guidelines, a utility company currently does have free authority to shut off power due to delinquent payments.