NEW ROADS — The Pointe Coupee Parish Police Jury agreed Tuesday to set aside $2,500 for a fund to help the parish's elderly buy electric space heaters in the event of future cold snaps.
Juror Cornell Dukes asked that the fund, administered through a partnership with the parish's Council on Aging, be named in honor of Paul Maker, the 84-year-old man who died last week of hypothermia during the region's most recent three-day freeze.
Maker was found dead Wednesday on the living room floor of the home he shared with his wife in the 8600 block of St. Peter Street in New Roads. Maker's wife was transported to a hospital shortly after her husband was discovered; her body temperature had dropped to troubling levels during the overnight freeze.
The couple, both wheelchair bound, had small gas-fueled heaters in their home but were afraid to keep them running overnight because of the fire risk they posed.
"I don't blame them because those things can start fires," Dukes said in an interview before Tuesday's meeting.
Gas heaters used in some older homes are considered dangerous both because they pose a fire risk and because of the potential for carbon monoxide leaks that can lead to poisoning.
But Brant Thompson, deputy chief with the State Fire Marshal's Office, said portable electrical heaters come with their own dangers as well if let running overnight, unsupervised.
"They're fine for use as long as people are awake and monitoring them," Thompson said. "There's no one-size-fits-all with any of this. We just urge caution with people using any type of heating device."
Authorities have said it was about 20 degrees in Maker's house when they arrived after a 911 call from a neighbor checking on the couple, whose children live out of town.
Dukes said he intends to ask the Council on Aging to match the Police Jury's financial contribution to the Paul Maker Fund.
"I want to make sure nothing like this happens in our community again," Dukes said. "We have big enough hearts to do that."