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Lawsuit alleging woman froze to death in apartment owned by Coeur d’Alene mayor settled

Widmyer (Joel Riner)
Widmyer (Joel Riner)

A wrongful death lawsuit against Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer and Coeur d’Alene Resort General Manager Bill Reagan was dismissed months ago after the sides reached an agreement.

Widmyer and Reagan are co-owners of the Royal Arms Apartments, where 73-year-old Margie Saunders lived alone and died as a result of the low-income complex’s heating deficiencies in November 2014, the lawsuit filed by her son, Stephen Saunders, had claimed.

The case was set for trial in January, but court records show that the case was dismissed in June after the sides reached an agreement.

Attorneys on the case declined to return multiple phone messages seeking information about the agreement.

Several other defendants also were named in the suit, including BW Real Estate LLC and CE Oakland Plumbing and Heating.

In the suit filed in November 2016, Stephen Saunders claimed the defendants received multiple complaints from tenants over a seven-month period about the lack of heat and hot water in the apartments. He alleged in the suit that Widmyer, Reagan and the other defendants “failed to provide heat, hot water, other habitable necessities and/or proper maintenance or repair” to Margie Saunders’ apartment.

According to a police report, Saunders died on her 73rd birthday of hypothermia and ethanol intoxication. Her body was found in her living room. A bedroom window was found cracked open as temperatures outside that day sank below 20 degrees, police said.

A coroner’s report confirmed the woman died due to hypothermia and ethanol intoxication – ethanol is the principal type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages – while also noting other health conditions, including cirrhosis of the liver and cardiomyopathy.

“Incapacitation on floor of cold residence due to ethanol intoxication,” the coroner’s report said. Her blood alcohol level was 0.097, according to the toxicology report.

According to police, Widmyer’s son, Ben Widmyer, is the apartment’s manager and responded to a call from Stephen Saunders when he found it unusual that his mother didn’t answer the door. Ben Widmyer met Saunders at the apartment and opened the door to check on the woman, who was found lying on her back and unresponsive.

When officers and medics arrived, police said, the woman was cold to the touch and didn’t have a pulse.

Three prescription medicine bottles were found on the living room couch, the police report said. Each was prescribed to Margie Saunders, including Metoprolol, Lisinopril and Hydrochlorot. The three medications help avoid high blood pressure and heart failure.

Officers instantly noticed the apartment’s frigid temperature, according to the police report.

“As soon as I entered the apartment, I immediately noticed how cold it was. The last two nights had been under 20 degrees and (Stephen Saunders) later stated there has been no heat in the building since June,” the police report said. “Ben (Widmyer) stated that the boiler was supposed to have been fixed on Friday, but he hadn’t heard from the repairman.”

Officers also spoke to five other Royal Arms tenants, according to the police report, who said the heat in the building had not been working since June 2014.

According to court documents and invoices, the defendants contacted Oakland Plumbing and Heating in March 2014 regarding a noise with the complex’s boiler system. Oakland remedied the noise problem, but suggested in writing that an old pump needed to be replaced in the near future.

In June 2014, the heat and hot water in the complex stopped working properly, according to the plaintiff, and Oakland soon responded by replacing a recirculation pump on a boiler it described as “No longer repairable” on a $696 receipt. According to the lawsuit, unnamed defendants performed services in an attempt to restore the heat and hot water.

In September 2014, the defendants – the Widmyers, Reagans and BW Real Estate – contacted Oakland about the continued heat issues and Oakland replaced another recirculation pump, according to written receipts included in the court case file.

In October 2014, Oakland was called to the complex again after receiving heat and hot water complaints, according to receipts.

Oakland determined the pumps for the boiler system needed to be replaced and advised the apartment’s owners to get heaters.

The plaintiff stated the defendants didn’t heed Oakland’s suggestion for heaters and, three days before Saunders’ death, another tenant notified the defendants that her child woke up with frozen fingers because the heat was off.

“Defendants Steven Widmyer, R. Marie Widmyer, William Reagan, Danelle Reagan, BW Real Estate LLC, Ben Widmyer, Oakland Plumbing and Heating and/or John Does and Jane Does 1-5 and Corporate Does 6-10 owed a duty to Margie Saunders to provide heat and hot water to her apartment, advise, diagnose, problems and/or repair the heating system to provide heat and hot water to her apartment,” the court documents read.

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