7 heat-related deaths in Chicago area

July 23, 2011 8:15:23 AM PDT
The Cook County Medical Examiner confirms at least seven people have died from heat-related causes. Four were elderly residents.

Another death is still in question as to whether the heat is to blame. An autopsy was set for Saturday.

In all but one of the cases heat was not the primary cause of death but rather a controlling factor that worsened an underlying medical condition.

Hezekiah Williams, 94, was the oldest victim. He was supposed to attend his sister's funeral Friday. Instead, the former factory worker was found dead Thursday inside his Austin neighborhood home.

"He watched the block. He'd just sit out here to relax, cool out," said Veronica Jones, granddaughter. "And everybody in the neighborhood loved him."

Though Williams had air conditioning, it's unclear if it was on. Relatives say he felt safer with the windows closed.

"He was my father, so I loved him," said Ruth M. Lowe, daughter.

"He had a lot of spunk about him, doing things on his own. He didn't want any help from anybody or anything like that," said Terry Sullivan, grandson.

Cesar Rodriguez may have been the youngest victim. The 18-year-old's family said he collapsed Thursday evening after riding his bike and running around outside. Though an autopsy is still pending, relatives believe the heat may have played a role in his death.

Hot weather was also a contributing factor in Greg Wolf's death. The 47-year-old North Lawndale resident lived upstairs from his aunt, Mary Flemming, who discovered his body Thursday.

"He was a beautiful person. He loved people," she said. "And I never heard him putting people down."

Relatives say Wolf had an air conditioner unit but never installed it. His family says he had a history of mental illness but found sanctuary at his church.

"That's all he had to go on. He had some issues. But his faith is what kept him going. He was a good man," said Jerome Jimmy Johnson, cousin.

Christine Snell, 81, who lived on the Far South Side, also had air conditioning. But neighbors say they were told by Snell's son the unit had recently been stolen.

"She was a great neighbor. She was a good lady. It was pretty shocking," said Stephanie Berry, neighbor.

North Side resident Tomas Garay, 58, died of heat stroke while heading out to buy a cold drink for his girlfriend, Rosalinda Deleon, who broke the sad news to his four kids.

"It hurts me, not because of me but because of her, my baby," said Deleon.

On Friday, city officials urged residents to take precautions and check on elderly neighbors.

"We don't know where these isolated seniors are. But every single neighbor knows who that person is. So the appeal is that they go to that individual personally. If they find they are not able to, call 311. It literally will save a life," said Joyce Gallagher, commissioner of Family and Support Services.

"This is the time to continue to check on friends, relative or neighbors, especially the elderly and those who live alone, give them a call or go visit them, get them ice tea or some water, chat with them, make sure they're safe," said Dr. Bechara Choucair, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Despite lower temperatures Friday, most residents appeared to be following recommendations to stay inside. On the South Side, where four out of the seven heat-related deaths occurred, usually busy summer streets were nearly empty, and even parks and playgrounds were deserted.

On Friday, officials said they had conducted 300 well-being checks and had some 29,000 field workers on the lookout for people who might need assistance.

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