Lawsuit filed after 3 women found dead at Rogers Park senior living facility during heat spell

The women were left vulnerable inside a building that was like a “brick oven,” an attorney representing the family of one of the women said Tuesday.

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Veldarin Jackson with his mother, Janice Lee Reed, who was found dead in a stifling hot senior living facility in Rogers Park during a spring heat spell earlier this year.

Veldarin Jackson with his mother, Janice Lee Reed, who was found dead earlier this month in a stifling hot senior living facility in Rogers Park.


Three women found dead in a Rogers Park senior living facility where the heat remained on despite complaints during a heat wave earlier this month died in conditions akin to a “brick oven,” according to an attorney representing the family of one of the victims.

A lawsuit filed this week alleges the building owner and manager, Gateway Apartments Limited Partnership and Hispanic Housing Development Corp., continued to operate the heating system at the James Sneider Apartments, 7450 N. Rogers Ave., during the week of May 9 despite abnormally warm temperatures that climbed above 80 degrees.

“What happened is deplorable. They basically had them in a brick oven and despite their pleas for help no one responded until three of them died,” said attorney Larry Rogers, who represents Janice Lee Reed’s son, Veldarin Jackson.

Veldarin Jackson talks about his mother during a news conference Tuesday.

Veldarin Jackson talks about his mother during a news conference Tuesday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“My mom was my father, my mother, my best friend. ... She meant the world to me, literally,” said Jackson, a warehouse worker from Joliet.

Jackson rushed to the affordable housing facility where his mother lived on May 14 shortly after her body was found in her bedroom.

“Mom was laid out on the bed, dead. It was hot ... when I say hot, it was burning up in there,” Jackson said during a news conference Tuesday at Rogers’ downtown law office.

In addition to Reed, 68, Gwendolyn Osborne, 72, and Delores McNeely, 76, were found dead each inside their apartments.

The suit alleges that Reed died as a result of excessive heat and the building owner’s failure to respond to requests to turn off the heat and turn on the air conditioning system.

The Cook County medical examiner’s office has yet to rule on the cause or manner of the deaths.

Residents could not adjust the temperature in their units. Those decisions were left to building management, Rogers said.

Reed was one of the residents who complained to management, Rogers said.

Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) also fielded complaints and visited the building.

The temperature in Reed’s unit climbed to at least 102 degrees, the suit alleges.

The calculation not to turn on the air conditioning was “purely a financial decision that cost the lives of these three ladies,” Rogers said.

“They’re deciding financially not to turn on the air because it costs more money, that’s what it appears to me,” Rogers said.

Paul Roldan, president and chief executive of the Hispanic Housing Development Corp., denied money had anything to do with it.

“There is no cost savings related to the operation of the heat as compared to the air conditioning, and the building’s management was obligated to comply with the city of Chicago’s heat ordinance. A cost analysis was not involved in the decision-making,” he said in an email Tuesday.

Roldan said the safety of residents has always been his company’s “highest priority” and his company is working with the city and conducting its own investigation into what happened.

“We are deeply saddened by the deaths,” he said. “We mourn the loss ... and send our deepest sympathies to their families and friends.”

Rogers said that building management incorrectly told tenants that a city ordinance restricted them from activating the air conditioning until June 1 and that doing so could result in a fine.

“It’s not a requirement not to turn the air on, as they’re suggesting,” Rogers said. “And if their management personnel on the property thought they couldn’t turn the air on until June 1 then they were misreading and misunderstanding what the requirement is.”

The ordinance requires rental properties to be at least 66 degrees during overnight hours and 68 degrees during the day from Sept. 15 to June 1.

Hadden told the Chicago Sun-Times after the tragedy was discovered that it’s “infuriating” that those tasked with managing the 10-story building apparently didn’t “put the life and safety of their residents first,” especially at a complex that gets public money.

The suit was filed Monday in Cook County.

Reed had lived at the building for more than a decade without complaint, Jackson said, noting that his mother lived independently since retiring a few years ago after a career working in an administrative position for a media company. She had five grandkids and four great-grandchildren.

Jackson said he last saw his mother a few days before her death when he took her balloons and a card on Mother’s Day.

With the tragedy in mind, an ordinance introduced to City Council Monday would exempt building owners from meeting the heat requirements during periods of warm spring and fall weather.

The Sun-Times reported last week the developer of that Rogers Park building has repeatedly violated the city’s heat ordinance, though no violations were found at the James Sneider Apartments.

Roldan previously said that “all heating citations were dismissed in court with no fines being issued or paid.”

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