Homeless man found dead in vacant garage
Not seen since January, Brent King died of hypothermia.
This garage at 1804 S. Main St. is where a homeless man was found dead from hypothermia. The man was last seen January 23, 2011. (Tribune File Photo/BARBARA ALLISON)
No one really knows how long Brent King's body lay lifeless in the garage. He was discovered by police lying on a mattress in the rear of the two-car garage at 1804 S. Main Street. An employee at the Center for the Homeless called police to report King missing earlier in the day, saying he hadn't been spotted since Jan. 23, when the overnight temperatures dipped into negative numbers.
Deputy coroner Nancy Pemberton said an autopsy showed King likely died of hypothermia, although toxicology tests are still pending.
“The last time someone had talked to him was in January,” Pemberton said, “He'd been there for about a month.”
According to a police report, King would make weekly appearances at the homeless center, where he would make calls to his parents and sometimes receive packages. But workers there knew he frequented the garage, accessible by a small ground level hole in the overhead door.
Police were also familiar with King, and his habits.
According to county jail records, he was released from the St. Joseph County Jail on December 21, after a nearly two month stay for a public intoxication charge.
In the past three years, King had nearly a dozen arrests, in both South Bend and Mishawaka, all misdemeanors and almost all for drunkenness. In 2009, South Bend police arrested him six different times for public intoxication.
King's apparent alcohol addiction, however, didn't keep him from becoming well-liked by those who knew him, said Lisa Knox, who works for the Center for the Homeless.
“King hadn't lived at the center since the middle of last summer,” Knox said, but he frequently stopped by to visit with employees and friends.
“He was a part of center life,” Knox said. “He was really well-liked, a nice guy who'd stop and say hi and ask how you were.”
Knox said King was a familiar face in the homeless community, having spent time at other shelters and in different treatment programs.
“He had a personality that was engaging,” Knox said. “He'd check in and want to make sure everyone was going well. He definitely appreciated what we were trying to do.”
Knox said King's parents live in Wisconsin and it's unclear what brought him to South Bend. In court records dating back to 2008, King always gave his home address as one of the city's shelters or, more simply, said he was homeless. His occupation was always listed as unemployed.
But despite the lack of a home or job, King still managed to survive.
The garage where King died is littered with empty beer cans, brown 40 ounce malt liquor bottles and an empty bottle of gin. Piles of trash reveal that whoever lived here seemed to enjoy O-Ke-Doke cheddar popcorn, 20 ounce bottles of Mountain Dew and the occasional McDonald's hamburger.
A ragged pile of blankets rests in the garage's back corner on top of an old full-size mattress, likely King's only protection from the cold, besides whatever clothes he wore.
From the confines of the uninsulated garage, one day after King's body had been removed, one can hear the sound of cars going south on Main or north on Michigan, the city's main traffic corridor buzzing with life.
It's easy to imagine, as you listen, that they are headed somewhere safe and warm.
Staff writer Dave Stephens: