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Probe Finds Utility Erred in Failing to Restore Power

November 8, 1986

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) _ A mistake by a utility employee resulted in failure to restore power to a house where a 7-year-old girl suffocated from the fumes of a charcoal grill being used for heat, state investigators said.

A report from the Department of Public Utility Control found that the family of the victim, Lucita Morales, had requested and received ″hardship status,″ which is designed to guarantee service to needy customers.

The family’s gas and electric service should have been turned on Nov. 1, the report said, but a Northeast Utilities employee recorded the order incorrectly.

As a result, service was not restored until Nov. 3, the day after the girl was found asphyxiated in an upstairs bedroom. Police said a hibachi that the girl’s mother, Paula Craig, was using to cook dinner and to heat the room generated carbon monoxide fumes.

Electric service to the home in Bristol had been shut off Sept. 30 and gas was discontinued Oct. 7.

A Department of Public Utility Control spokeswoman, Toni Blood, said the utility company had received a hardship application from Craig through the Connecticut Energy Asssistance Program operated by the state Department of Income Maintenance.

Craig’s power was supposed to be restored on Nov. 1, the first day of a yearly moratorium on utility payments for customers who can demonstrate hardship. The moratorium ends April 15.

Blood said a computer operator at Northeast was processing the application Oct. 30, but punched the computer’s ″no print″ button instead of the ″print″ button.

″Pushing ‘print’ sends the order to restore power to the dispatcher. Pushing ‘no print’ doesn’t. It’s as simple as that,″ Blood said.

Jane Strachan, an utility spokeswoman, said no action would be taken against the employee, whom she declined to identify. Blood said the DPUC would review the case to determine whether the system for tracking hardship cases needed improving, but no action was pending against the utility.

Avila Craig, Lucita’s grandmother and the owner of the two-story house, said she did not blame Northeast for the girl’s death.

″I don’t feel victimized,″ she said. ″My daughter was just caught up in what is happening in America. ... She represents all the girls that have babies and no income.″

Instead, she faulted what she called the bureaucracy.

″It’s sad so many people get caught up in the bureaucracy,″ she said. ″It’s about time people in Bristol wake up and realize people are hungry.″

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