Defining ‘dead’ and ‘drunk’

By From page A5 | February 22, 2012

Richard Esposito

It’s a typical Friday afternoon. You’re working at your desk when suddenly an employee in customer service informs you there’s a homeless man at the front counter requesting to see you. What’s an open-door policy for if the door isn’t open to everyone? You recognize the gentleman. Some label him homeless but in reality he prefers living under a canvass tent roof to one made of asphalt shingles. He’s also living off the grid at his campsite residence at Placerville’s Lumsden Park.

The purpose for his visit was difficult to ascertain at first. He’s hard of hearing and has trouble clearly expressing himself.

“What about a phone?” I asked.

On prior encounters I knew he owned a cell phone and offering him money for minutes served as a more respectful alternative to just dropping a few bucks in his hand.

“Do you need money for minutes?” I asked.

“No. I need to use a phone.” He insisted.

“What’s the problem?” I inquired.

“I found a body,” he stated. “And I think he’s dead.”

We’ve had our share of run-ins with the homeless on this side of Placerville in the past. Just last month I reported a man lying in a prone position between two newspaper vending machines off Broadway. He wasn’t dead – just dead drunk.

And last summer police were summoned when one of our employees discovered what she believed was a lifeless body behind a utility box off Wiltse Road. As I stood over the person lying on the ground I observed lung activity.

“She’s not dead!” I said to those standing behind me. “She’s drunk.”

The frantic call to 911, prior to the matter coming to my attention, brought a police car, ambulance and a fire truck racing in our direction. After this incident an inner-office memo was delivered to employees explaining the difference between “dead” and “drunk.” It was an effort to save me time and the city an enormous amount of manpower and resources on these types of calls.

“Are you sure he’s dead?” I asked my visitor. “Could he just be drunk?” (Remembering past incidents)

“I nudged him with my foot and he didn’t move. There’s some blood near his head,” he informed me. “And he’s naked.”

“Naked?” I asked. This conversation was getting bizarre.

“He’s not even wearing shoes,” he added.

I asked him when he discovered the body. Could this be his imagination getting the best of him or were we dealing with pink elephants here?

“I found him about an hour ago” he stated. “And I couldn’t get anyone to let me use a phone to report it.”

His story was beginning to jell, despite the naked reference, and local authorities were contacted.

Since then the victim’s identity has been established and a cause of death has yet to be determined. From the description it sounds like a methamphetamine overdose. As I understand it, overdosing on meth gives the person a sensation their body is burning — thus the removal of clothes.

Coincidently, Lumsden Park experienced a clean-up of sorts the following weekend. The homeless and their camps were removed. Only time will tell whether we’ve seen the last of the homeless camps scattered in the wooded area around the pond.

My homeless source tells me everyone was sent to area shelters.

“They treat us real well. They give us everything we need. I offered to sweep the floors or clean toilets, but they told me it wasn’t necessary,” he informed me.

“Will you stay there?” I asked. “It sounds like a nice arrangement.”

“No, I’m going to move my campsite farther up on Yankee Hill.”

“What about the others?” I asked. “Where will they go?”

“They sweep out the park every few years,” he said. “They’ll probably go back there.”

The county’s homeless problem has improved of late. But we’re still far from ever resolving it. And if the body count tells us anything — it’s not being homeless that kills people but drug and alcohol addiction. Perhaps that’s where we need to start with help.

Richard Esposito is publisher of Village Life. Contact him via e-mail at

Richard Esposito


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