Elderly Eatonton woman freezes to death while husband lies helpless nearby

An elderly woman froze to death last week in her front lawn in Eatonton overlooking Lake Sinclair / Eric Mock (WGXA)

EATONTON, Ga. -- An elderly woman froze to death last week in her lawn in Eatonton overlooking Lake Sinclair.

Investigators said that on Thursday, 74-year-old Maria Riffe died while her husband laid about 20 yards from her, both unable to help each other.

Riffe's husband, 86-year-old Roy, was in a motorized wheelchair going down their concrete walkway at their home when he ran off of the walkway and fell out of the wheelchair.

Maria Riffe, who relied on a walker to get around, came out to help her husband but fell off of the walkway as well, leaving both helpless.

Roy Riffe was wearing a jacket and fleece pants, which investigators said helped him survive the night, but his wife was only wearing a house dress.

Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said that they haven't performed an autopsy yet but that they assume that she died of hypothermia from being exposed to the cold all night.

Crystal Pittman lives just up the road from the Riffes and has known them for decades.

"I'm devastated, devastated. First of all that nobody told me, I had no idea, and it makes me really sad that Miss Maria died that way, and that nobody was able to find her," Pittman said.

The Riffe's neighbors on either side of their home don't live there full time, so both houses were empty, meaning it was possible no one could hear the Riffes if they yelled for help.

"Unfortunately, the sheriff's office gets calls every day to check on elderly people who live alone, and often times we get there only to find that that elderly person, the ones who truly live by themselves alone, unfortunately, are dead," Sills said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, elderly fall deaths happen all to often in the United States. They report that at least 2.5 million older people are treated in emergency rooms for fall injuries per year.

This should serve as a reminder to everyone to check on their elderly neighbors or family that live alone during these cold nights.

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