An elderly resident had a case of heatstroke Wednesday at a Northwest Washington apartment building where the air-conditioning system was broken during the peak of last week's heat wave.
That same day, another elderly tenant in the building at 801 Rhode Island Ave. NW was found dead in his apartment by worried relatives. A grandson said the man's residence had become so hot, "It felt like an overheated sauna." The exact cause of his death has not been determined.
Tenants of the eight-story Foster House said they are especially angry at having complained for three weeks about the broken air conditioning because their grievances to the building's managers and owners went ultimately to two of the District's top elected officials.
The construction of Foster House was sponsored by New Bethel Baptist Church, at Ninth and S streets NW, whose pastor is the Rev. Walter Fauntroy, the District's nonvoting congressional delegate. It is owned by a church-controlled firm and managed by Crawford-Edgewood Management Inc., a company owned by D.C. City Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7).
Neither Fauntroy nor Crawford could be reached for comment yesterday.
Daniel Mackall, 79, was found dead in the living room of his Foster House apartment. No autopsy was ordered by homicide investigators; thus the exact cause of death has not been determined, police said.
Donald Bryant, 38, Mackall's grandson, said, "He was a diabetic. The last time I saw him was Tuesday. He was sweaty and wobbly. I found him sitting in a chair in the living room.
"The heat must've knocked him out . . . . Elderly people like him need to stay cool to survive."
Estelle Cunningham, 79, was hospitalized for four days after her heatstroke, suffered in her apartment at Foster House on Wednesday, according to Lois Charles, a spokeswoman for the Washington Hospital Center. Temperatures that day reached 98 degrees.
"I blacked out last Wednesday," Cunningham said in a telephone interview yesterday, shortly before she was released from the hospital. "I just kept getting hotter and hotter," she said. Her husband Roosevelt said she was placed in the hospital's intensive care unit after he called an ambulance to the apartment.
Cunningham yesterday went back to an apartment that was still hot, even though the weather was milder; the building's central cooling system was still broken and the windows of her apartment were stuck shut.
Shirley Haywood, president of the tenants association, said dozens of residents are upset because they believe that Cunningham's heatstroke and Mackall's death "could've been avoided if either Fauntroy or Crawford had responded to our complaints earlier."
"I've talked to people in Crawford's office and I've talked to people at Fauntroy's church. The air conditioning has been down for about three weeks. It's as hot as hell in here," said Haywood, a Labor Department secretary who has lived there for 14 years.
A notice from building management to "all tenants" hung in a hallway yesterday. Dated Aug. 9, it read: "Due to mechanical failure, our air-conditioning system will be down for a few days. We apologize . . . . The contractors are currently working on the system."
Several tenants said that the building's air conditioning failed several days before the notice was posted.
David Huff, a paraplegic who lives at Foster House, has been spending the hot days lying in bed under a small fan with ice cubes on his face to keep cool, he said.
"All I can say is, it's hot. It's very difficult to live under these conditions. I have to sleep on ice, but these cubes don't last long. They melt real fast. I have to keep calling my parents to bring me more ice."
Foster House is a handsome edifice with a red brick exterior and white cinder block interior, which contributes to oven-like conditions if it is not cooled, residents said.
Some said the air-conditioning system goes out every year, which discomfits all residents but especially exacerbates allergies, emphysema and other ailments.
Haywood said, "The fans we have just blow around the hot air." The management company "could at least buy separate air-conditioning units for those who desperately need it or reimburse those who choose to buy one for themselves."
"If it's 94 degrees outside, imagine how hot it is in a brick building in the middle of Washington," said Patricia Trim, another resident. "For some reason, it seems like the air conditioning always breaks down when it's the hottest point in the summer."