PRINCESS ANNE — Delmarva Power says it did not cut off power to a family of eight who died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning because they were behind on their utility bills.
Spokesman Matt Likovich says the utility discovered a stolen electric meter had been illegally connected to the rental home where the family was living since November.
The utility says the meter was disconnected for safety reasons on March 25.
Rodney Todd and his two sons and five daughters then used a generator for power. They were last seen alive on March 28.
Likovich says Delmarva Power is deeply saddened by the tragedy and urges anyone with power issues to contact them to ensure continued safe electrical service.
“I’m just numb. I’m just numb. Like it’s a nightmare but it’s not,” the children’s mother, Tyisha Luneice Chambers, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “If I had known he was without electricity, I would have helped.”
Police responding to a missing persons report found their bodies Monday after friends, school workers and Todd’s supervisor at work had knocked on the door with no answer.
“The children were all in beds and it appears as though they were sleeping,” Keller said. “They didn’t have electricity. Probably it was bedtime and they decided they needed some light and probably some heat, because toward the end of March even though it was spring we were having some pretty chilly nights.”
Why Todd ran the gas-powered generator inside his kitchen wasn’t clear. The chief speculated that the noise would have bothered neighbors, had it been outside.
Todd got some welfare money, but it wasn’t enough, said Sarah Hardy, his close friend.
“How can a man survive off of basically minimum wage with seven kids, and you can’t help him with a utility bill?” Hardy asked. “This man was working. And Delmarva Power cuts the lights off?”
Lloyd Edwards said his stepson had bought the generator after the power was shut off due to unpaid bills at their one-story wood frame home in the small town of Princess Anne on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
“It’s so hard. How can you understand something like this?” Edwards said. “He was an outstanding dad. … To keep his seven children warm, he bought a generator, and the carbon monoxide consumed them.”
Todd got help paying utility bills in the past, but did not apply this year, said Tom VanLandingham, who directs the Office of Home Energy Programs in Somerset County. Families can apply once a year, and assistance is based on household income and energy use, among other factors.
“We’re all kind of baffled as to why he did not apply this year,” VanLandingham said. “That’s the million-dollar question.”
Todd retained full custody of his children when his divorce from Tyisha Luniece Chambers was finalized last September. Court records identified the boys as Cameron and ZhiHeem, and the girls as Tyjuziana, Tykeria, Tynijuzia, TyNiah and Tybreyia. Bonnie Edwards said her grandsons were 13 and 7, and granddaughters were 15, 12, 10, 9 and 6, respectively.
“The mother left, not only the seven kids by Rodney, but she left her oldest son with him as well,” Hardy said. “She abandoned him and the kids.”
Todd served 16 months behind bars for assaulting his wife in a domestic dispute, Hardy said. Upon his release, “he came home, caught her in bed with another man, and the man was abusing the kids. He took his seven kids and her son and raised them on his own.”
Chambers denied that she abandoned them, and said she had been paying child support.
“He wasn’t a single parent. I was in their lives. I don’t have drug problems. I love my kids and I’m sorry their father passed as well,” she said, adding that she planned to meet Todd’s relatives at a funeral home on Wednesday.
Bonnie Edwards said her son taught his children how to talk with elders and the value of education. He bought each a cake and a gift on their birthday, even though money was tight.
“There was nothing he wouldn’t do for them,” she said. “All he was trying to do was to keep his kids warm.”
A co-worker at the nearby University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Brittney Hudson, said Todd “was always smiling and laughing.”
“He’s the man you need to know and the man you want to be,” said Bilel Smith, who lives nearby. “They were their own football team, their own basketball team. This is breaking our hearts.”
Associated Press Writers Amanda Myers and Sarah Brumfield in Washington, D.C., contributed.