The family of a D.C. woman who died in her "ice cold" home is suing Washington Gas for $10 million after the woman's heat was turned off with little notice when temperatures were near freezing.
Beatrice Harley was 102 years old and in good health this March. Her son, Paul Bowman, called his mother about 9:30 p.m. March 20 and figured when she didn't answer the phone that she had gone to bed. When she didn't pick up for a second night in a row, he went to her home on the 5000 block of B Street SE.
The house was "ice cold" when Bowman entered early the morning of March 22, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday. Bowman and firefighters who forced open Harley's bedroom door found Harley on the floor, huddled next to a stone-cold radiator with blankets piled on top of her.
She was dead and the heat in her home had been turned off while temperatures were in the 30s.
Washington Gas had left a card on the front door but no notice saying service had been turned off as a crew dug up a gas line under Harley's driveway.
“In violation of multiple regulations and good sense, Washington Gas disconnected Ms. Harley’s gas so it could do work on underground pipes on her property," the suit says.
When Washington Gas disconnected Harley's gas service, her pilot light went out. The utility company then left the scene for the weekend, the lawsuit says, leaving Harley without heat. Washington Gas never notified Harley or her son and never attempted to re-establish Ms. Harley’s gas supply or re-light her pilot light, the suit says.
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"I believe that if they had not interrupted her heat in her house, my mother would still be here today," Bowman told News4 in March.
Harley died of pneumonia, according to the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Bowman's lawsuit says his mother essentially "froze to death."
DC Councilmember Yvette Alexander met with a Washington Gas executive shortly after the beloved mother died.
“They told me that it was under investigation as to why they cut the gas off and were doing the work in her private driveway.” Alexander said. "I was told directly that they were going to conduct an investigation, and we still want answers."
Michael McAuliffe, Bowman's lawyer, said Washington Gas never conducted an internal investigation or reported the incident to the Public Service Commission as the law requires.
A representative for Washington Gas declined to comment, citing the pending lawsuit.
D.C. law prohibits utility companies from disconnecting service when the forecast calls for temperatures 32 degrees or colder for the following 24 hours.
Harley's home sat empty on Wednesday. The neighborhood cats she was known for feeding waited on the front porch.