MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) -- After pleas to extend the time he could pay his bill went unheeded, a Muskogee man bound himself to his gas meter, determined not to allow the utility company to take it away.
Mike Robinett said Tuesday that he chained himself to the meter to try to persuade Oklahoma Natural Gas Co. to give him a few more days to settle his $760.82 bill.
"I called ONG and asked them for a couple more days, but they said they had already scheduled the order to have the meter removed, and I had to give the man $327 when he showed up to take the meter," Robinett told the Muskogee Daily Phoenix as he sat next to his meter with a heavy chain around his waist and his ankle.
His 2-year-old daughter, Cheyenne, sat on his lap.
Robinett said he has not been able to work for nearly two years because he was injured while doing construction work and was in a car accident. The 32-year-old said he has been selling possessions and borrowing money from friends to keep his bill paid until the Social Security Administrations approves his disability claim.
The Robinetts' bill increased from about $80 a month to $427 in January for their three-bedroom home.
"If they take my meter, I won't be able to keep her warm or cook her supper," Robinett said, referring to his daughter.
Roger Mitchell, ONG's manager of communications, said the number of people seeking help with their bills has nearly doubled to 130,000 in the past three months.
"We're trying to be sensitive to costs and customers, but its not fair to customers to let them get in so deep they can't get out. Obviously, as the weather warms up we are going to have more collectors out there collecting," Mitchell said.
By 5 p.m., Robinett's pregnant wife and a family friend had gathered $100 from the United Methodist Church and $50 from the Gospel Rescue Mission.
Social workers from the Department of Human Services promised to pay $129, and ONG said it would accept the $279. Robinett has until March 20 to pay the balance.
Local agencies said they have been inundated with requests and were out of funds.
ONG officials said workers would be collecting past due amounts as temperatures rise above 20 degrees at night.