Columbia man dies weeks after city cut electricity

Friday, December 11, 2009 | 11:53 a.m. CST; updated 3:42 p.m. CST, Friday, December 11, 2009

COLUMBIA — A man whose electricity was shut off in late September died of hypothermia Dec. 4 in his home.  

The body of Nathan Graham Curry, 30, was found by police inside 2006 Ammonette St. on Friday.

Lori Fleming, Columbia city finance department director, said Curry was not an electric heat customer, but was billed for everything except natural gas. His service was shut off on Sept. 30, but he received notifications from the city about his account prior to that, she said.

The department sends a notification letter to customers five days before shutting utilities off and makes a courtesy call two days prior to shut off. Fleming said if a customer doesn’t come in within 30 days after services are cut off, the account is considered abandoned.

"On Oct. 30, we turned off his utilities because he had made no contact with the city," she said.

She said city records indicate that Curry didn’t go to the office to make a payment agreement, which would have enabled him to continue his utilities. The department offers both a short-term and long-term agreement for customers.

"For the short-term agreement, you say you need more time to get money, and it’s handled over the phone," she said. "If you need more than a few weeks extension, you come in and sign an agreement."

Fleming said each agreement is tailored on an individual basis, and customers can work out payment agreements a few times a year if necessary.

Curry would have been eligible to come in for assistance. It is not uncommon for people to abandon their accounts and get behind in utilities payments, she said.

“It’s really important for people to contact us,” Fleming said. “Once you ignore the notices it makes it a little harder to handle the situation.”

Curry moved to Columbia 12 years ago and attended Columbia College. He worked for Columbia Foods for eight years.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Mike Merrick December 14, 2009 | 8:19 p.m.

I am concerned about the lack of details in this story, particularly about what factors might have kept this individual from being identified as someone in extreme need. It does a good job of making the utility company NOT look bad, but what kept this individual, who attended college (although no details about WHEN he attended were given) and worked in the community for eight years (but was he still employed when he died?)from seeking assistance? Could it be he had some cognitive issues that should have been supported for him to live in the community? Was he just a reclusive person, who had little contact with his neighbors? Why wasn't there someone who knew enough about him to raise a flag about his situation? Those are the kind of details that would make this a real story, something worthy of printing and using to educate the public.

(Report Comment)
Dee Mier December 15, 2009 | 10:51 a.m.

Was Curry employed at Columbia Foods at the time of his death? Did he own the home where he was living or is it rental property? How long did he reside at that residence? Were the utilities in Curry’s name? Did he have problems in previous years with paying for his utilities? Did anyone interview his neighbors, co-workers, friends or family members? This report is more about the electric company’s effort to reach out. Did anyone check on this effort? Was a technician from the electric company sent to Curry’s neighborhood to cut his utilities? Did the technician check with Curry’s neighbors to determine if the house was vacant? It seems neglect caused this death and this report seems to absolve the electric company’s role. Curry didn’t order and then not pay for Girl Scout cookies. He couldn’t pay for a utility that he needed to survive. Wouldn’t it be humane and fair reporting to give Nathan Graham Curry a voice now?

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking December 15, 2009 | 11:30 a.m.

Dee Mier wrote:

"It seems neglect caused this death and this report seems to absolve the electric company’s role."

But who's neglect? How much can the power company be expected to find out what's happening with a customer who is not paying their bill? Most people, when they lose their power, are quite eager to contact the city and work something out. There are many programs that would have helped Mr. Curry out had he just tried to take advantage of them.

It's always tragic when something like this happens. But in this case, it seems, it's hard to know what could have been done differently to prevent it.


(Report Comment)
Angela Bishop December 15, 2009 | 7:03 p.m.

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!?!? How is there not a process set up for these circumstances? Especially this time of the year and in this economy. How is it that the utility company fails to follow up with customers??? They obviously didn't receive any return mail/bills from the residence so what would lead them to believe that he had left?


(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley December 15, 2009 | 8:52 p.m.

I don't think this was anyone's fault. LIt was certainly unfortunate, and tragic. But, the lights were not cut off at the time of the year that there was severe weather. And when they were cut off, Mr. Curry did not communicate with the City of Columbia to get them cut back on.

Lori Fleming is one of the fairest people that I know of. And I know from personal experience that she is very reasonable and very fair. I also know from personal experience that she is a very tolerant lady. The City of Columbia, MO. is very fortunate to have her working for them.

It is kinda sad that people like Lori Fleming work a tough, thankless job. And we don't show these people how much we appreciate them, but when we need someone to blame for something going wrong in the city, we blame them and they stand right there and take it, and still do the best job they possibly can for us.


Columbia Free Speak:

(Report Comment)
Dee Mier December 15, 2009 | 10:09 p.m.

I trust Lori Fleming may have performed to the best of her ability; however, it was Mr. Curry who paid the highest price.

Neither the neglect of one person or one company led to this tragic end.

Eight years on the job and several weeks without electricity. It is hard to imagine how Mr. Curry’s circumstances went unnoticed. I will try to be more aware of those around me. Possibly there is some close to me who may be in dire straits.

I know there are programs out there to assist those in need but how easy is it to get that assistance. I understand there are many hoops to jump through if one thinks they qualify. I'm thinking one has to be well below poverty level in order to qualify for assistance but I don't know enough about the programs.

Possibly Mr. Curry knew or thought he didn’t qualify for assistance.

There are many questions unanswered in the report. I hope someone will eventually give Mr. Curry a voice.

My questions stand.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking December 16, 2009 | 8:25 a.m.

Dee Mier wrote:

"There are many questions unanswered in the report."

Agreed. If it turns out that Curry tried to get assistance from, say, Share the Light, or a church/neighbors/friends, or set up a payment plan, then we have a very different set of circumstances.

However, it's not against the law to not have utilities, and it may be that Mr. Curry's own choices led to his unfortunate end.

And here's the trouble. How far do we go to help someone that may not want help? How active a role can the city, or anyone else, take in encouraging, or even forcing, someone to make a rational choice?

I remember listening to an exchange on the police radio several years ago. An officer had talked to a homeless man on the Business Loop, and offered to let him spend the night at the station just to get him out of the cold (it was cold like mid last week - single digits). No lasting charges - just a humanitarian hot and cot for the night. The homeless man refused,said he was a "rugged outdoorsman" and insisted he'd be fine. Another officer came on and said the hypothermia was likely affecting the homeless man's judgemeent, but it was still clear that unless the homeless man accepted the patrolmans offer, there wasn't anything the police could do. The officer even went back and tried to talk him into sleeping at the station again, and was again refused. The homeless man was OK (at least I didn't read about him later), but if he hadn't been, what more could the police (or anyone) do and still be respectful of the homeless man's rights?

It's tough to know what's best, especially since we know so little about the circumstances here. How far do we infringe on a person's privacy and liberty to protect them from harm, particularly if they themselves do not seek help or call attention to their plight? I'm not saying that's what happened here, because I don't know, but I'm just putting the question out there for discussion.


(Report Comment)
Dee Mier December 16, 2009 | 11:08 a.m.

DK, I agree with you.

Please understand that I’d like the full story.

Mr. Curry died.

Where’s the rest of his story?

Did the reporter interview Mr. Curry’s neighbors or co-workers? Where are his friends and family? What is Mr. Curry’s history? What led to this end?

Is there something more we can learn that could help the rest of us prevent another such tragedy?

(Report Comment)

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