Family resorted to jumper cables to charge elderly Houstonian's respirator, lawsuit against CenterPoint says

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A Houston woman is suing CenterPoint Energy for the wrongful death of her elderly father during the winter storm that left Texans in the dark.

According to the lawsuit, 83-year-old James Thomas Jones died as a result of the company's "gross mismanagement of power allocation." The suit adds that Jones had a backup respirator but the battery ran out of power during the 24 hours that the larger outage took place.

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"CenterPoint's gross mismanagement of power allocation caused Mr. Jones to suffocate to death. During the February 2021 winter storm, CenterPoint completely failed to reasonably rotate power, which denied Mr. Jones the ability to utilize his primary respirator, and charge his secondary, portable respirator," the lawsuit states.

Jones was reportedly living with his daughter, Pamela Bunkley, during the storm when the power went out from 10 p.m. Feb. 15 until 10 p.m. Feb. 16. It was during that time that Jones was unable to use his primary respirator. The suit adds that Jones had a backup respirator but the battery ran dry during the 24 hours that the power was out.

According to the lawsuit, Bunkley and her husband tried to charge Jones' backup respirator using jumper cables connected to her car.

SEE ALSO: Houston grandma who froze to death victimized after her death

"This only provided minimal charge that was insufficient to power Mr. Jones' respirator for any meaningful amount of time. Slowly, Mr. Jones grew weaker as the blackout prolonged, and as his body struggled to breathe in oxygen," the suit states.

When the power at Bunkley's house returned on Feb. 16, Jones was connected to his respirator and his backup was put to charge. But the family lost power again on Feb. 17 at 2:30 a.m.

In that time, Jones had little time to use his respirator before the battery was completely dry. After 30 minutes into the second blackout, Bunkley and her husband took her father to the hospital but he was pronounced dead when he arrived at the emergency room.

"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," the suit states.

When ABC13 reached out to CenterPoint regarding this incident, the company sent the following statement:

"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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