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Family sues after power cut killed frail elderly man who used respirator

James Jones relied on a respirator to help him breathe (Picture: KHOU 11)

A family is suing their energy provider after an elderly man was killed by a power cut that left him unable to use his respirator. James Jones, 83, who had a chronic lung condition, died in February after a winter storm in Texas led to huge power outages that meant he couldn’t use a machine that helps him breathe.

Now his daughter, Pamela Bunkley, from Harris County, Texas, is suing CenterPoint Energy for $1 million following her father’s death. Bunkley’s lawyer, Benny Agosto Jr, says the cause of death listed on the death certificate is COPD, a dangerous lung disease, with the secondary cause of death listed as the February 2021 winter storm.

Bunkley says Jones relied on a respirator to help him breathe and that when the CenterPoint warned of rolling blackouts due to an incoming arctic blast, the family tried to prepare as best they could. She said the family had a backup, handheld battery respirator to fill in the gaps during power outages.

Bunkley says the backup respirator is only designed to run for three to four hours at a time, and Jones would have to go without it as they recharged it in the car, reports KHOU 11.

James Jones

James Jones, center, died during the winter storm in Texas last month (Picture: KHOU 11)

She added that they went without power for 24 hours during the first blackout and when it finally came back on, Bunkley said power went out again about five hours later, in the early hours of February 17. It was then that Jones was found on the floor asking for help while trying to crawl to his backup respirator after his main one, which was plugged into the wall, stopped working, Bunkley said.

‘He was getting more and more tired throughout the day’, Bunkley explained.

She added: ‘I yelled for my husband to come in and help. I was telling my dad that we need to get you to the hospital.

‘And he’s like, “I really don’t want to be a burden to anyone”.’

Bunkley says her father was pronounced dead in a hospital emergency room.

The family’s lawyer, Benny Agosto Jr, said: ‘CenterPoint did not plan for the winter storm and it did not care.

‘And I say that, not loosely, I say that because there were other communities in Houston that had full power. Never lost power.

‘No question, Mr Jones’ death was caused in part by CenterPoint’s negligent power distribution over the February 2021 winter storm. Even taking ERCOT’s role in the crisis, Houstonians were made personally aware of CenterPoint’s failings.

‘It is intolerable that Mr. Jones had to struggle to survive while other Houstonians never lost power.’

Tracy Bunkley, Pamela Bunkley’s husband, added: ‘If you say that you are going to do rolling blackouts, and have a plan in place, then you should exercise that plan.’

‘We would’ve been able to adjust accordingly if we were properly informed’, added Pamela Bunkley.

Jones, right, had a chronic lung condition called COPD (Picture: KHOU 11)
Jones’ family has announced a lawsuit against their energy provider, CenterPoint (Picture: KHOU 11)

In response to the lawsuit, CenterPoint Energy released a statement and moved to offer their condolences for the Bunkley family’s loss.

‘As the regulated utility responsible for delivering electricity to our more than 2.6 million customers across greater Houston and surrounding communities, we understand the severe impact that the historic weather and power generation shortfall emergency had on all Houstonians and Texans.

‘While as a matter of company policy CenterPoint Energy does not comment on pending litigation, we want to express our condolences to the family and friends of Mr Jones for their loss. We mourn for all the lives that were lost as a result of the severe winter weather event.

‘CenterPoint Energy is fully committed to working with the Governor, Texas Legislature, Public Utility Commission of Texas, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), Texas power generators, and all stakeholders to take measures to address the issues related to this historic winter storm.’

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