NEW ROADS — The overnight freeze that saw temperatures plunge into the teens claimed the life of an 84-year-old man and sent his wife to the hospital Wednesday morning.
Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff Bud Torres said Paul Maker and his wife were disabled and got around by wheelchair and that they feared using space heaters to heat the home because of the risk of fire.
The tragedy was compounded by the inability of the couple's children to travel to New Roads after learning what happened to their parents because most roads and the interstate system in South Louisiana were shut down all day Wednesday and into Thursday due to icy conditions.
"I tried to call them all day yesterday to check on them and never got an answer," said Wanda Curly, the couple's daughter who lives in New Orleans. "I knew the weather was bad and I knew they couldn't do a lot for themselves."
Torres said his deputies found Paul Maker around 11 a.m. Wednesday after receiving a 9-1-1 call from a neighbor who routinely checked on the couple.
The coroner pronounced Maker dead upon arrival. He died of hypothermia, Torres said.
"He was in the house with his wife and they were deathly afraid of running their space heaters overnight," Torres said Wednesday. "This is just a sad situation."
Pointe Coupee Chief Deputy Coroner Joe Gannon said the temperature in the house, located in the 8600 block of St. Peter Street, was approximately 20 degrees when authorities arrived.
The man's wife was transported to the hospital shortly after they arrived because her body temperature had dropped to troubling levels, Gannon said.
"She would have been next, I think," Gannon said. "This was a really old couple in an old house with poor heating."
Colleen Eames, 66, spent Monday practicing climbing out of her bedroom window, her sister timing the escape.
"They would turn their oven on to heat the home and then turn it off at night," he added.
Capt. Steve Juge, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office who was at the scene, said Maker's wife feared leaving the oven and space heaters on throughout the night could lead to their deaths like it had for so many others recently who died in house fires caused by space heaters.
Juge said Maker's wife told deputies she thought she heard her husband fall in the living room around midnight Tuesday. She was in the bedroom and unable to check on him, Juge said.
"Both of them were immobile," Juge said. "They got around the house in wheelchairs."
The couple, who Curly said had been together for more than 60 years and share several children together, were transplants to New Roads following Hurricane Katrina.
Most of the couple's children moved back to New Orleans and tried for years to encourage their parents to follow them as they got up in age and couldn't move around as well as they once could, Curly said.
"But they didn't want to come," she said. "I tried my hardest. But they didn't want any type of help. Even from a nursing assistant."
With the death of her father, Curly said she intends to force her mother to move back to New Orleans where there is plenty of family that can look after her in the future.
"She doesn't have a choice now. She can't stay there by herself," she said. "All this is very hard right now. Especially since I can't get to my mom because all the roads are closed."