Warning: Nighttime heat can be deadly

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by JASON WHITELY

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

WFAA

Posted on July 20, 2011 at 10:00 PM

Updated Thursday, Jul 21 at 3:05 PM

DALLAS — The biggest concern for heat-related illnesses and deaths isn't during the daylight hours when temperatures can penetrate triple-digits, but rather overnight when the mercury doesn't fall below 80 degrees, said Zachary Thompson, Dallas County Health Department Director.

"Everybody normally focuses on that daytime temperature, but that nighttime temperature brings us to a deadly level that is a concern, because at night, there's no cooling off," he added.

The county is receiving more calls on its heat emergency hotline from people needing air conditioners to combat almost three weeks of temperatures at or above 100 degrees.

Foundations and grants pay for the cooling units, Thompson said — not taxpayers.

"Most of us think we're 'Texas tough' because we're from Texas, but this heat can be deadly to our senior citizens," Thompson said.

Fred Velasquez, 81, is the latest person to succumb to the hot weather.

His step-granddaughter, Jeanette Acuff, would only make periodic checks on him at his small apartment near Love Field.

"He didn't want me here more often," Acuff said. "He said, 'I'm fine. You don't need to come over here more often.'"

But after what happened Friday, she said wishes she had stopped by more often. Velasquez was found dead in his shower.

The elderly man's apartment was hot, and hyperthermia was among the listed causes of death.

Dallas police said his air conditioner was found unplugged.

"I think he unplugged it and thought he would stand it as long as he could," Acuff said.

Velasquez became a butcher in the late 1950s at the Sheraton Hotel and later at the Anatole.

Acuff blames increasing utility bills for causing the retiree to cut back on air conditioning. A $300 bill arrived when we were there, even though his apartment is only 400 square feet.

His new electric meter checked out OK, Acuff said, after calling and having it tested.

The utility even agreed to set up a payment plan to help him pay his bills.

But only earning $1,000 in pension and Social Security, Acuff said Velasquez remained frugal and might not have thought he could afford to keep his apartment cool.

If you or someone you know needs relief, call 211 for more information.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com

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