CARBONDALE — The family of a woman who died at Carbondale Towers in May 2019 is suing the building manager, Ohio-based Millennia Housing Management, LTD.
The lawsuit filed in Jackson County Circuit Court late last month alleges the landlord failed to provide adequate security at the apartment complex on West Mill Street, directly contributing to the death of 37-year-old Kristin Duncan, of Murphysboro.
Terri Marcus, Duncan’s mother and representative of her estate, brought the case on behalf of Duncan’s four minor children. Marcus is represented by the law firm Morgan & Morgan.
Millennia spokeswoman Valerie Jerome told The Southern the company is unable to comment on matters of pending litigation.
The Carbondale Police Department previously reported that its officers responded to a call around 2 a.m. on May 17, 2019, of a person trapped in a “mechanical device” at the property. When officers arrived, the individual was deceased.
The department launched a death investigation, but few other details have been released since.
Shortly after the incident, residents of Carbondale Towers told The Southern that Duncan entered the trash chute from the sixth floor in Building A — one of two eight-story towers that make up the apartment complex — and was killed by the trash compactor.
Carbondale Towers is reserved for low-income seniors and people with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, through a contract with Millennia, subsidizes tenants’ rent payments. Duncan was not a resident of the apartment complex.
Millennia purchased Carbondale Towers and the adjacent Mill Street Apartments in 2016.
According to the lawsuit, Duncan went to visit friends at an unidentified apartment at Carbondale Towers some time before her death.
“It was believed that (Duncan) advised one of her children she was leaving with some friends and would return home in about an hour,” the lawsuit says. “Some of the facts at this point are unclear to all surviving parties, but all facts known at this time elude to (Duncan) becoming involved in a dispute or an unsolicited attack.”
At some point inside the building, Duncan began running door to door within the apartment complex, banging on doors and begging people to help her before “they” kill her, the lawsuit claims. The lawsuit alleges that while Duncan cried out for help, she was forced into the trash chute at no lower than the sixth floor, where her purse was found still jammed in the chute following her death.
Duncan survived the fall down the trash chute to the first floor and began to yell for help that she was trapped inside the trash compactor. Two Carbondale Towers residents heard the woman’s screams and called police, with one call coming in at 1:49 a.m. and another shortly thereafter, the lawsuit says.
“At some point subsequent to the fall and calls to police, someone turned on the trash compactor and (Duncan) was crushed to death by the hydraulic mechanism,” the lawsuit states. “It is unclear whether (Duncan’s) unidentified assailants, an employee for (Carbondale Towers) or an unwitting third-party is responsible for the activation of the compactor.”
The police department has never publicly referred to its investigation into Duncan’s death at Carbondale Towers as a homicide investigation. Attempts to reach the department Thursday for an update on the status of the case were unsuccessful.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges Millennia failed to maintain necessary security measures, and did not provide adequate and appropriately trained staff. Millennia did not employ security guards at a property with a known high rate of criminal activity, or properly train other employees in safety, security and protection procedures as it should have done to protect residents and guests, the lawsuit claims. Further, it alleges Millennia failed to maintain what security measures it did utilize on the premises in “safe and working condition.”
The apartment complex has locks on doors entering the premises and security cameras throughout the building, but “it is widely known that many of these security measures are maintained in poorly functioning or inoperable conditions,” the lawsuit says.
Carbondale Towers residents previously told The Southern that many of the security cameras throughout the building do not work, and a reporter observed last year that they are missing altogether on some floors. Several residents said Duncan’s death left them shaken and frustrated more wasn’t being done to protect their homes.
Following the incident in 2019, Thomas Strausborger, Millennia Housing Management’s director of security, invited residents to share their concerns with him at a meeting at the property, Jerome, the Millennia spokeswoman, previously told The Southern.
At the listening session, he informed residents that the company would consider upgrading its security camera system and providing funding for a part-time, off-duty police officer to patrol the property. Jerome stressed at the time that site improvement discussions were preliminary, and no decisions had been finalized. “I don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver,” she said. More than a year after the meeting, Jerome told The Southern this week she was unable to say whether the camera security system had been upgraded, citing the pending lawsuit.
When Strausborger visited Carbondale, then-Carbondale Police Chief Jeff Grubbs also met with him and expressed the city’s desire for the company to enhance and expand site security and generally improve the property.
According to the lawsuit, records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that since 2015, police have responded to calls of at least 15 reported batteries at the property; nine overdoses; 14 reported dead bodies; 104 incidences of disorderly conduct; 97 reports of domestic dispute; 88 incidents of theft; 111 incidences of suspicious activity; and three reports of shots fired/gun violence.
Jerome said Millennia does have plans to apply for low-income housing tax credit financing to redevelop the property at some point in the future, though she said the timeline for doing so is not firm.
On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI
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