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Published: Tuesday, 2/10/2004

Seniors-unit resident dies of cold

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Lenetta Churak Lenetta Churak
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An 86-year-old Toledo woman died of cold exposure last week, the apparent victim of a furnace outage at her public housing complex.

Lenetta Churak, whose body was found on her linoleum floor near a patio door at Glendale Terrace in South Toledo, was pronounced dead at the scene about 6 p.m. Thursday. Dr. Diane Barnett, deputy Lucas County coroner, found no other significant injuries or health-related problems.

She ruled her death an accident as a result of hypothermia.

“I said, Was it a stroke, or a heart attack, or what? ” family friend Don Burch said he asked a coroner s investigator. “He said, Hypothermia. ”

“My jaw just dropped,” he said. “How can a place subsidized by the government allow that?”

Larry Gaster, executive director of the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority, said a resident called the office about 7:45 a.m. Wednesday to report an apparent heat outage at the complex, a collection of about 100 units for seniors at 3200 Glendale Ave.

The message to the out-of-town answering service was relayed to a local LMHA supervisor by about 8:30 a.m., and eventually to a maintenance office. A repairman arrived at the complex at 11 or 11:30 a.m., a short time after a second resident called to complain, Mr. Gaster said.

“We haven t had any problems since,” Mr. Gaster said, “I think this was an anomaly.”

Several Glendale Terrace tenants told The Blade yesterday they had noticed it had been cold at the complex, but not extraordinarily so last week.

Robert McHaney, who lives around the hallway corner from Ms. Churak s apartment, said he often turns on the oven and opens the door to help his apartment warm up. He also noted a small heater in the bathroom.

“I don t think she could have been that cold, that it would have killed her,” he said of Ms. Churak. “I mean, if it d been that cold, you d heard a lot more hollering [from residents].

“Of course,” he added, “she was an [elderly] lady and that might have made a difference.”

It could be one of the many reasons Ms. Churak was unable to stand again after collapsing for an unknown reason, Dr. Barnett said. Overturned planters indicated she had tried to get to her feet.

Ms. Churak suffered from severe arthritis, and possibly some dementia. Those conditions, her age, and the fact that she fell on a cool floor near an exterior door may have contributed to her death, Dr. Barnett said.

According to readings at Toledo Express Airport, temperatures Wednesday and Thursday ranged from 10 degrees to the mid-20s.

“It was probably a combination of factors,” Dr. Barnett said.

Mr. Burch, whose grandmother had been Ms. Churak s close friend for nearly seven decades, had gone to check on her Thursday after a neighbor noticed a newspaper from the previous day still outside her door.

When Mr. Burch knocked on her door and received no answer, he peered through the window and saw Ms. Churak s body on the floor.

Yesterday, he sat in his West Toledo home with his grandmother, Laura Boles, 85. The two women had worked together and lived together off and on for years, Ms. Boles said.

She crossed her arms tightly around herself. “Thinking of her laying there, cold like that, makes me sick,” she said.

Mr. Burch said Ms. Churak, whom he called “Ne-ne,” had lived at the complex since about 1995. Her health declined dramatically in the past few years, after she learned - from local media - that her son had been dead for several years.

She had fallen out of touch with son, Eugene Bearringer, and his children after a family quarrel. Then, in 2000, Ms. Churak learned another Toledoan had bought Mr. Bearringer s home at a sheriff s auction, and found his badly decomposed body inside. He d been dead several years.

“She was never the same after that,” Ms. Boles said.



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