A Columbus man died Thursday of a heat-related condition at The Ralston, where some residents were without air conditioning, the Muscogee County Coroner’s Office said.
Charles Hart, 60, was pronounced dead at 5:23 p.m. in his room at the 211 12th St. facility. The cause of death will be heat-related due to medical conditions, said Chief Deputy Muscogee County Coroner Freeman Worley.
Worley said the temperature was 98.6 degrees when he entered the room and the air conditioning was off. The air was turned on, he said, but the temperature didn’t drop after more than 30 minutes.
“I was here a month ago and had the same issues with a different person but it wasn’t as hot outside,” Worley said. “It was not quite as hot inside. It’s cooking in there now.”
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Travis C. Hargrove, an attorney with The Finley Firm in Columbus and a representative for The Ralston, said a company has been contacted to perform the repairs in the building. In the meantime, Hargrove said the staff went out to purchase fans for every resident. Efforts were underway to make sure that each resident had a fan for the night.
Hargrove said The Ralston also is obtaining cooling equipment to create a “cool zone” in a common area for residents. “While the Ralston cannot predict when an HVAC unit may fail, upon the failure occurring, it has, and is continuing to do everything in its power to address any issues created by the situation and resolve it as quickly as possible,” Hargrove said in a statement.
After learning that a death had occurred in the building, Hargrove said, “That’s extremely tragic and unfortunate. ... The Ralston doesn’t want that to happen to anyone else.”
Regina Draut of Columbus was in tears after leaving the room of her brother-in-law. She said he was stricken by COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma.
Draut said she was aware of work to fix the sprinkler system and fire alarm.
“I never dreamed that he would lay up there and die like that,” she said, choking back tears. “Ninety-eight degrees. I’ve been in there for the last hour and he is laying there dead. All he had on was his underwear.”
Draut said the temperature stayed 98 degrees the whole time she was there with Worley. “It’s too late for my brother in law. It’s too late for him,” she said outside the building on 12th Street. “These people down here need some help. This is inhumane. We are in Columbus, Ga., and allowing this to happen.”
The building was facing a deadline from city officials until work started to repair violations with the fire alarm system. The director of Inspections and Code has given the owner until Aug. 21 to make needed improvements in the 10-story building.
There are 269 units in the building. Built in 1914, The Ralston is under a Section 8 Project Based Rental Assistance contract with Department of Housing and Urban Development. All units are covered under the contract, which helps low-income residents with their rent. The subsidy is administered for HUD by National Housing Compliance Inc.