Extreme cold weather tied to 3 deaths in Madison area, causes water main breaks

January 3, 2018

Frigid weather in the Madison area has contributed to the deaths of three people and led to frozen pipes and broken water mains across the city.

A man found dead Sunday morning in a Downtown parking ramp was the third area death in three days involving hypothermia, authorities said.

A fourth person was rescued from the bitter cold on Monday when she was taken by a passer-by to a Madison police station.

The deaths come as the bitter cold temperatures, which have been no higher than 13 degrees since Friday, have caused pipes to freeze inside businesses and more than a dozen water main breaks.

Low temperatures over the stretch have ranged from 4 degrees on Friday to minus 13 degrees on Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

The death of Vance Perry, 57, of Covington, Georgia, whose body was found Sunday, followed the deaths last week of Jeffrey Bracey, 60, of Madison, and Alice McGaw, 84, of Sun Prairie.

Barry Irmen, director of operations for the Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office, said Tuesday preliminary autopsy results showed hypothermia was a “likely contributor” in all three cases.

The final cause and manner of death was not disclosed pending additional study in each of the three deaths.

Perry’s body was found in the State Street Capitol parking ramp after he walked away from a local hospital on Saturday.

Madison police went to an address in Madison after Perry left the hospital but were unable to find him.

An employee of the parking ramp, 214 N. Carroll St., found Perry’s body Sunday morning.

“There were no signs of trauma, but the victim was not dressed for the frigid conditions,” said police spokesman Joel DeSpain. “He was wearing a light jacket, a ball cap and no gloves.”

Bracey was found outside in the 200 block of East Olin Avenue on Friday morning. He was taken to a local hospital where he died.

McGaw was found outside the Faith Gardens assisted living center in Sun Prairie, also on Friday morning. She was a resident at Faith Gardens.

The state Department of Health Services, which oversees assisted living facilities, is investigating McGaw’s death, spokeswoman Elizabeth Goodsitt said Tuesday.

On Monday, a 66-year-old town of Madison woman was found wandering and seemingly confused on a Downtown bike path, and was taken by a passer-by to the Central District police station before being taken to a hospital.

Water main breaks, burst pipes

The Madison Water Utility has been busy repairing broken water mains. Since Friday, crews have repaired 14 water main breaks along the city’s approximately 900 miles of water mains, said water utility spokeswoman Amy Barrilleaux.

She said repairs usually take between four and six hours and typically impact few customers.

The most recent break was Tuesday on East Washington Avenue near Stoughton Road, Barrilleaux said.

“In the wintertime, that’s sort of the busy water main break season,” Barrilleaux said. “We had crews (Monday) going from break to break to break all day and night.”

Also on Tuesday, Madison Water Utility workers had to replace a a water control valve in the 500 block of State Street that was broken after pipes froze inside a nearby business.

Two State Street businesses were damaged Monday because of frozen water pipes in apartments above the businesses, the second such incident on State Street during a long stretch of frigid weather.

The businesses damaged this time were the former Takara restaurant at 313 State St. and Pizza di Roma, 315 State St., the Madison Fire Department said.

The flood damage was reported by an automatic waterflow alarm at about 1:50 p.m. Monday.

“Upon arrival, firefighters immediately noticed significant amounts of water coming through a ceiling light in the entryway to the first floor,” said fire department spokeswoman Cynthia Schuster. “The crew went to the basement to turn off the water service, and they found more water built up in the basement.”

The problem was traced to two apartments above Pizza di Roma.

“The apartments were very cold inside, both had their themostats turned off and the temperature readings were at 40 degrees,” Schuster said.

While there’s not much you can do to help prevent water main breaks, she said people can minimize the risk of frozen water pipes inside homes and businesses.

Insulating pipes near basement windows and in unheated areas like attics and garages, opening cabinets where sink plumbing is against an outside wall and setting the temperature of a home or business to at least 55 degrees are ways to help prevent pipe freezes, according to the Water Utility.

Barrilleaux said signs of a water main break could be water bubbling up from the ground or running down a street.

“With water mains, it’s about being vigilant,” she said. “If you see moving water or water bubbling up, please give us a call.”

To report a main break, call the Madison Water Utility at 266-4661.

High temperatures are expected to climb no higher than the low teens until Saturday night.

Temperatures between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve averaged 1.6 degrees, which was the coldest holiday week since 1886, according to the National Weather Service.

State Journal reporter David Wahlberg contributed to this report.