Lucia Zito Angelini
First Lieutenant, United States Army
Police said Wednesday that they do not suspect foul play or negligence in the death of a former World War II nurse who died as the temperature reached 128 degrees inside her room at a personal-care home in Moon, Pennsylvania.
Lucia Angelini, 84, was pronounced dead at 8:36 a.m. Monday inside Autumn Lane Personal Care Facility on Brodhead Road. Allegheny County homicide detectives are investigating.
County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht's office ruled Angelini's death from hyperthermia an accident, caused by a newly installed thermostat that wasn't compatible with the heating unit.
Investigators said Angelini was found in her bed under several blankets during a routine check by care staff about 8:20 a.m. Monday. She was last seen alive around 8 p.m. Sunday.
The thermostat was set in the 70s, but the thermometer was at its maximum of 90 degrees, investigators said.
Wecht said the room temperature was 128 degrees and that Angelini's core body temperature was 113 degrees. A 105-degree temperature would be life-threatening.
The home is one of six Autumn Lane facilities in the region, according to the company's Internet site. The business is managed by Jane Dotter, whose mother founded the company in 1971.
Larry Schneider, operations manager for Autumn Lane, said Angelini frequently complained of being cold and had a history of turning the thermostat in her room to its highest level.
Schneider said the home even placed a lock box on the thermostat because of excessive gas bills. The lock box was removed Friday, when a new thermostat was installed after complaints that the old one wasn't working, he said.
"It's not a mystery to me that the thermostat would have been turned up. To me, that was Lucia's track record," he said. "It hurt us deeply that this happened."
Dr. Bruce Dixon, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, said people need more heat as they age and have less tolerance for the cold.
Chief Deputy Coroner Joe Dominick said even if Angelini had adjusted the heat level, the temperature shouldn't have risen so high.
The state Department of Public Welfare, which licenses personal-care homes, will allow local authorities to conclude their investigation before making its determinations, said spokeswoman Stacey Ward.
Angelini's daughter, Catherine Farley, said the family isn't pointing fingers over the incident. They just want answers.
"I know we want to look into to, but where we go from there I don't know," said Farley, 49, of Moon. "We're not taking Autumn Lane and raking them over the coals."
The coroner's office said Angelini had mild dementia.
Lucia Angelini spent a year and a half in the Army, serving in Africa as nurse at a World War II field hospital. She initially was turned away from Army service, having been told that, because of her 5-foot height, she was considered too small for military service, her daughter said.
Angelini went on to receive bachelor's and master's degrees in nursing from the University of Pittsburgh. After stints at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and Shadyside Hospital, she became a school nurse in the Reserve Township School District, which later became part of Shaler Area School District. She retired in 1988.
Farley said her mother will get the burial she wanted -- at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
"She said: 'Let the government bury me. I earned
it,' " Farley said.