Three seniors were left to die in a Chicago apartment complex after temperatures hit about 100 degrees and property managers refused to provide air conditioning, according to attorneys for two families of the victims. The bodies of 68-year-old Janice Reed, 72-year-old Gwendolyn Osborne and 76-year-old Delores McNeely were discovered on May 14 at James Sneider Apartments on Chicago’s North Side, ABC 7 Chicago reported.
Reed’s family announced at a news conference on Tuesday that his family would be suing owners and operators of the Sneider Apartments, the Hispanic Housing Development Corporation and Gateway Apartments, for alleged wrongful death and negligence. Noted civil rights attorney Ben Crump also spoke at the news conference and tweeted about residents who begged building management to lower “sweltering temperatures.”
“Trust has been betrayed because the James Sneider Apartments apparently put profit over safety,” Crump said. He later added: ”No human being should die in this horrible way, just needing a little air.”
Lorna Barnes, a resident at James Sneider Apartments, told ABC 7 she had seen one of the women before she died. "Janice asked for help,” Barnes said. “She went downstairs, and she asked for help like I did."
The family buried Reed on Saturday, Tondolaya Blisset, a niece of Reed’s and a longtime family friend of mine told Daily Kos. “She was the most loving. I mean, God. You never saw her angry,” Blisset said of her aunt. “She always had a positive outlook on everything.”
Blisset said a maintenance worker found her aunt’s body when her best friend came by to check on her. They had a breakfast date planned. So when the woman asked to be let in Reed’s apartment, the maintenance worker went first. When he returned to Reed’s best friend, he told her to brace herself, Blisset said. The friend found Reed “laid up against the headboard with no top on,” Blisset said. When her sister was called to the complex, she noticed other ambulances arriving and took pictures of thermostats in multiple units. Her aunt’s thermostat read 101 degrees, Blisset said after seeing the photo her sister took.
Veldarin Jackson Sr., Reed's only son, told ABC 7 he remembers seeing his mother's body. "He unlocked the door, and we went in and my mom was laid out on the bed dead, and even then it was hot," Jackson said. "It's like my best friend, mom; mom was my father, my mother, my best friend, I mean just everything."
Attorney Larry Rogers Jr. told ABC 7 that both residents and officials reported intense heat in the buildings but the complex did nothing to prevent the victims' deaths, instead claiming that city ordinances required the heat to be on until June 1. Alderman Maria Hadden, of the 49th Ward, told ABC 7 that just isn't true.
"To be clear, our ordinance does not require that heat is on in a building through June 1," she said. "It does require that a minimum temperature is set at 66 at night and 60 in the day from about mid-September through June 1."
Attorney Steve Levin, who is representing Osborne's family, told ABC 7 the claim that building managers thought they couldn't turn on air is "absurd."
The Hispanic Housing Development Corporation, a not-for-profit advocate for affordable housing that manages 10,200 units, said in a statement ABC 7 obtained that its goal is "to help provide economic stability and housing security to people who need it most."
"We are deeply saddened by the deaths of three women who made our James Sneider Apartments their home. We mourn the loss of Janice Reed, Gwendolyn Osborne and Delores McNeely and send our deepest sympathies to their families and friends," the corporation said in the statement.
It added that it is working with the city to conduct its own investigation.