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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Mitch Dudek

$16M settlement for families of 3 women who died in sweltering Rogers Park apartment building

The James Sneider Apartments in Rogers Park. (Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file)

The families of three women who were found dead inside their sweltering apartments at a senior living facility in Rogers Park will receive a $16 million settlement.

The women — Janice Reed, 68, Gwendolyn Osborne, 72, and Delores McNeely, 76 — were discovered on May 14 at the James Sneider Apartments.

The women died after calls for help were ignored by building managers for several days, when temperatures were consistently over 90 degrees in Chicago, according to attorneys representing the families of the deceased women. The $16 million will be split evenly among the families.

After the tragedy, Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) said a facilities manager at the building was still running heat, despite a heat wave, to avoid potentially being cited under a city ordinance for shutting off the heat before June 1.

Attorneys for the women’s families said the interpretation of the ordinance was incorrect.

The law doesn’t require owners of rental units to keep the heat on until June 1 but to maintain a temperature of at least 66 degrees at night and 68 degrees during the day between Sept. 15 to June 1.

Gateway Apartments Ltd. and Hispanic Housing Development Corp., which own and operate the James Sneider Apartments, agreed to pay the settlement. Neither had an immediate comment.

After the deaths, an ordinance was passed that, among other things, requires buildings housing seniors, as well as other residential high-rises, to establish cooling centers in common areas when the heat index reaches 80 degrees. The index uses air temperature and humidity to estimate how hot someone feels.

“This tragedy was avoidable and could and should have been prevented,” said attorney Larry Rogers Jr., who represents the family of Janice Reed. “Had the defendants used common sense and turned the heat off and the air conditioning on, these ladies would not have died.”

The Cook County medical examiner’s office determined the primary cause of death for all three women was environmental heat exposure due to a hot residential building during a heat-related weather event.

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