Friends, officials: No red flags foretold of Elkhart heat-related deaths
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In fact, a family member had apparently seen Kathleen Hyre alive and well within a day of the discovery of her body Friday at her Lusher Avenue home on Elkhart’s south side. The other victim, Michael Bowen, lived at a McPherson Street home with several others and one of his housemates had seen him Friday night, the evening before he was found dead in his second-story room.
“I guess it just got so hot,” said Vanessa Stump, one of Bowen’s roommates. “That’s what I don’t understand, because it was cool upstairs.”
Both Hyre, 84, and Bowen, 45, died of hyperthermia, according to Elkhart County Coroner John White, raising anew concerns about the adverse impacts of extreme heat. Local temperatures have since abated, somewhat, but last week here in Elkhart they reached triple digits — 102 degrees on Friday and 100 on Saturday, according to data from the Elkhart Municipal Airport compiled by the National Weather Service.
Hyre’s body — with a core temperature of 104 degrees, 5.4 degrees above the norm, 98.6 degrees — was discovered at her home around 4:20 p.m. Friday, according to authorities. There’s an air conditioning unit in one of the front windows of the home, but White said it wasn’t working.
Bowen was discovered dead by a housemate Saturday afternoon. The housemate, Stump’s stepfather, was bringing the man his dinner, according to Stump. His core temperature after dying was 102.5 degrees, according to White, and he described the man as obese, which could have factored in the hyperthermia.
The two local heat-related deaths come on top of two others in Marion County and another of a child left in a car in Greenfield. Nationwide, the recent heat wave has been blamed in more than 50 deaths.
‘LOVED HIS LEGOS’
Late Monday morning, Stump and Lisa Lambuth were sitting on the porch of the home in the 900 block of McPherson Street where Bowen lived. Stump’s mother and stepfather — long-time friends with Bowen — are the main residents and Lambuth is a family friend.
“It was very shocking,” said Stump, alluding to Bowen’s death. “Very, very, very shocking.”
Bowen, a 1985 Goshen High School grad who was single, served in the U.S. Navy and had previously worked for Dometic Corp., a supplier to the recreational vehicle industry. More recently, he was unemployed.
Stump described the man as a night owl, saying he’d be up all night and sleep during the day. He’d frequently remain in his room — Lambuth called him a “room person” — assembling Legos building blocks and watching movies.
“He loved his Legos,” said another man on the porch who would only identify himself as Earl. “He would build stuff and give it to the kids.”
Bowen, added Stump, “was a big kid. He had more toys than my kids did.”
The McPherson Street house is served by two window air conditioners, though none in Bowen’s upstairs room, and many fans. Stump said the heat inside the residence last week didn’t seem extreme and Bowen gave no indication of suffering.
The night before he died, Stump’s stepfather saw Bowen step into the bathroom to take a shower, everything seemingly OK. Moreover, that he would’ve remained in his room all day wasn’t out of the ordinary, though now Stump wonders.
“That’s what I kept thinking: Is there anything else we could’ve done?” Stump said. “I don’t think so.”
Hyre lived alone in a neat one-story home and a family member had checked on her the day before she was found dead, according to White. The grass in her yard showed hints of green notwithstanding the heat and dry weather of late, indicating it had been receiving at least some attention.
Other Lusher Avenue neighbors weren’t acquainted with the woman and expressed surprise on learning of her passing.
“Just wish she would’ve had ... air conditioning,” said James Army, who lives across busy Lusher Avenue from the Hyre home. “It’s a shame she had to go like that.”
A woman who lives behind the Hyre home said she’d regularly exchange pleasantries with the elderly woman or discuss yard work. She frequently saw her coming and going in her car.
“She was just so vital,” said the neighbor, who didn’t want to give her name. “She was on the go constantly.”
Hyre had apparently lived on Lusher Avenue for years and was an “original” in the neighborhood as tenants in other neighborhood homes came and went. “She was a sweetheart,” said the neighbor woman.
The temperature inside Hyre’s home was 98 degrees when her body was found, according to White. In explaining her and Bowen’s deaths, he noted the stress to the body of constant exposure to heat, without sufficient cooling or hydration.
“You can’t go a sustained period of time without cooling down the core temperature,” he said.
Reporter Dan Spalding contributed to this story.