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N.J. Utility Company May Have Violated Their Own Code After Cutting Power to Grandmother Dependent on Oxygen Tank

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A utility company representative was told about a 68-year-old woman’s medical condition about a month before she died after her electricity was turned off because of a past due balance, the woman’s daughter said Tuesday.

Desiree Washington said the representative from Public Service Enterprise Group visited her mother’s Newark home in early June to seek payment of an unpaid utility bill. PSEG has said Linda Daniels’ bill was “severely in arrears” and that it made numerous attempts to contact her about it.

Daniels suffered from congestive heart failure and was in hospice care, and relied on an electric oxygen tank to breathe, said Washington, who lives in Pennsylvania. Washington said her brother, Samuel Daniels, spoke to the PSEG representative at his mother’s house.

Linda Daniels died last Thursday, hours after the electricity was turned off. A funeral service is scheduled for Wednesday.

PSEG, the state’s largest utility, said Monday it wasn’t told of Daniels’ medical issues, and that if it had, it wouldn’t have shut off the service.

Washington disputed that account.

“I just want them to take accountability,” Washington said Tuesday as she stood in front of her mother’s house. “We’re not making this about money. There’s a life involved. And we can’t get that back. Who are you to play God and turn the lights out and make that call? Was it worth it?”

Under New Jersey’s administrative code, a public utility can discontinue service if a customer owes more than $100 or if the account is more than three months past due.

Cutting off service is prohibited, however, “if a medical emergency exists within the residential premises, which would be aggravated by a discontinuance of service.” A utility is allowed to ask for a customer to submit a written physician’s note stating the nature of the medical issue.

Service also shouldn’t be discontinued if a customer pays the full amount or “a reasonable portion of the amount,” according to the code. Washington said $500 was paid to the utility two days before the power was cut off. According to local station WABC, $300 was paid in April and $450 another month from the nearly $1,800 balance.

PSEG didn’t immediately confirm whether it received the payment. On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the utility confirmed that a representative visited the Daniels house in June but reiterated that there wasn’t any notification of Daniels’ medical condition.

PSEG is conducting an investigation into the incident. Newark police also are investigating.

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