Gov. Haslam requests probe of 11 hypothermia deaths in February

Crews work to clear the road in this TDOT photo.

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NASHVILLE -- Gov. Bill Haslam has asked the Department of Health to investigate why 11 people froze to death during last month's winter storm.

Some were found dead in their homes after being without heat. At least two were elderly people who froze outside their homes after falling down.

Tennnessee Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner told WPLN-FM the homeless are most at risk for hypothermia, but people in homes can also die if their heat is out. The situation can be worse if a person is on medication or abusing alcohol.

In Chattanooga, local homeless man Douglas King, 64, died Feb. 17 in the 600 block of East 11th Street while sleeping against a trestle near a railroad track. His body was surrounded by beer bottles.

Later that week, as temperatures dropped to the single digits, Sequatchie County sheriff's deputies found 85-year-old veteran Bradley Sutter dead in his rural mobile home with nothing but electric blankets for heat. Deputies found an electric furnace in the home, but it was either broken or not turned on.

And on Feb. 20, a 79-year-old man was discovered dead in Polk County, also of weather-related causes, officials said.

Dreyzehner said "neighbors checking neighbors" is the best means of preventing hypothermia deaths.

Dreyzehner said most of those who died from hypothermia probably had people who were worried about them but couldn't get out to check on them.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.