CHICAGO — Following the deaths of three women inside a Rogers Park apartment building Saturday, many have voiced their concerns over management’s alleged refusal to activate the facility’s air cooling system, despite the recent warm-up.
The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office identified the victims as 76-year-old Delores McNeely, 72-year-old Gwendolyn Osbourne, and 68-year-old Janice Reed. Results on how exactly the three women died are pending.
Lorna Barnes, who has lived in the James Sneider Apartments for seven years, says excess heat contributed to the deaths of three women found unresponsive in the building located at 7450 N. Rogers Avenue.
Barnes said she and Reed were friends.
“Now she’s gone,” an emotional Barnes told WGN News Sunday. “So I’ve been suppressing the anger.”
Barnes says she and Reed were shopping buddies and also neighbors.
“Soft-spoken,” Barnes called Reed. “She was a lady’s friend to everybody.”
As temperatures soared in Chicagoland last week, Barnes says she expressed concerns for her life due to the apartment’s temperature.
“I was scared to go to sleep, worrying I wouldn’t wake up,” she said.
Barnes says she believes that’s what happened to her friend.
“We asked them to check on her (and) they found her deceased in her bed,” Barnes said.
Theresa Gregorczyk, Reed’s niece, revealed that her aunt’s room was sweltering, with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees. She snapped pictures in a neighboring apartment that showed temperatures nearing 100 degrees.
“Management said that they were not allowed to turn on the air until June 1,” Gregorczyk told WGN News Saturday. “They stated that it was a city ordinance but after speaking with the alderman and the state representative, I found out that is not the case.”
Roneisha Harris’ grandmother has lived at the senior complex since 2003 and says that she knew some of the victims.
“Janice Reed was such a nice lady. Always upbeat, on the go, every day, coming and going,” Harris said. “I’ve never seen her frown, never seen her with a frown on her face. Miss Dolores was the same way. Always asked about my grandmother every day I saw her.”
Harris, like many others, believes management could have avoided the tragedy.
“Something needs to change,” she said. “There needs to be accountability for the neglect here.”
Barnes said that she complained to management about the heat on Tuesday. By Thursday, Ald. Maria Hadden (49th Ward) had stepped in, learning that the building was actively blowing heat instead of cool air.
“They had been given some fans but heat was running in the building until Thursday evening when I got involved,” Hadden said.
The issue of A/C and not turning it on until the beginning of next month stems from some interpretation of a Chicago ordinance to ensure residents have heat over the winter months. But the ordinance doesn’t state that air conditioning can’t be switched on when needed.
“It’s not uncommon for us to have building managers blame the city ordinance for some policy choice they’ve made but our ordinance is very clear and says you have to provide temperatures of 68 degrees through June 1,” Hadden said. “They do address heating and nowhere says they have to have the heat on until June 1.”
While cool air is finally flowing, many say it’s too little, too late.
“These are professional management companies,” Hadden said. “They really should know better.”
Late Sunday night, the management company for James Sneider Apartments, Hispanic Housing Development Corporation, released a statement: “We are deeply saddened by the deaths of three residents at 7450 N. Rogers. The safety and security of our residents has always been our highest priority at HHDC. We are working with the city of Chicago and conducting our own investigation into the incident.”