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Register-Guard today: Rash of river deaths has homeless worried

This is the inevitable result of the marginalization of the homeless. Anyone with information or ideas please contact me.
Rash of river deaths has homeless worried
Published: Thursday, October 6, 2005

The discovery of a homeless man's body under a bridge earlier this week brought the number of people who have turned up dead in or near the Willamette River to five in the past six weeks.

Police identified the man found Tuesday under the bridge between Glenwood and Springfield as Marvin Milton Tucker, 51.

So far, investigators have found no evidence of foul play or anything linking the deaths to one another.

But the high number of deaths and the fact that four out of the five victims lived on the streets has left many in the homeless community afraid for their safety.

"Someone just mentioned that it seems like a lot of people are turning up in the river," said Susan Nelson, director of women's services at the Eugene Mission. "I think we'll see it becoming more of an issue as information comes out."

Clients at St. Vincent de Paul's Eugene Service Station on Highway 99 near Bethel have been talking about the deaths, too.

A homeless man who identified himself only as Lloyd, 49, said people are scared. About 80 percent of the homeless people he knows live in camps along the river, he said. People who usually camp alone or in small groups are joining together, seeking safety in numbers.

"They're starting to band together a little bit more," Lloyd said. "The girls are starting to band up with some of the guys, and even the guys are banding up together."

They're afraid of a killer, someone targeting the homeless, either out of hatred or greed. People are worried that the victims are being killed for their Social Security, disability or welfare money, Lloyd said. "The majority of people are sure that someone's doing it," he said.

The number of deaths is unusual, Lane County sheriff's Lt. Randy Smith said, but detectives working the cases have found no evidence of a plot against the homeless. Most of the victims were known to drink, and they lived along the river. For some, a life on the streets brought on predictably bad health. Others may have simply drowned accidentally.

"These all happened in the hot summer months," Smith said. "More people go in the river in the hot summer months than any other time of the year."

So far this year, there have been 16 drownings in Lane County. But it is the five most recent ones that are making some people wonder.

The first to die was Nick Hodge Welling, 58. A father and son canoeing on the Willamette found his body on Aug. 21 floating near a shallow rock bar about 40 feet from the west bank of the river. An autopsy ruled his death an accident.

Welling had suffered from alcoholism and mental illness for years. Although homeless when he died, he had lived in an apartment on City View Street in Eugene for several years. During that time, two neighbors filed stalking orders against Welling in Lane County Circuit Court, stating that Welling's problems were making him a nuisance.

One woman said he constantly begged for money. He had entered her home and stood in front of her car, preventing her from driving away. She said she thought that he might suffer from dementia and that he needed supervision. "He needs help," she wrote in court papers. Another neighbor said Welling tried to punch him when he was caught stealing a bicycle.

He had several citations for trespassing and drinking in parks. Springfield police had transported him to Sacred Heart Medical Center for a mental evaluation in February.

Investigators aren't sure how Welling ended up in the water, but his blood-alcohol level was high, indicating that he was drinking before he died, Smith said. They have found no evidence of foul play.

About three weeks later, two men boating in the Willamette near Lanes Turn Road discovered the body of 37-year-old Michael Brian Brayton in a shallow channel.

Unlike the others, Brayton was not homeless. He was born in Isle Lamotte, Vt., and served in the Army from 1988 to 1992. He moved from California to Eugene in 1999 and had worked at Country Coach and in construction. He shared an apartment on Franklin Boulevard with a roommate. The roommate reported Brayton missing on Sept. 16, three days after his body was found.

According to the roommate, Brayton walked away from their home late on Sept. 7 and never returned. Investigators think he may have been joyriding down the river on a railroad tie before he died. They found no evidence of foul play.

A week later, two men floating down the river saw a body snagged on a debris pile near the D Street boat landing in Springfield. The body was that of David Hal Ayres, 50, of Eugene.

Ayres was well-known to police and social service workers. He had been alcoholic and homeless for more than a decade. In his youth, he was injured in an accident with either a train or a truck - stories vary - and one side of his face was disfigured.

"I can remember him from when I first started here, 20 years ago," Springfield police Sgt. Mike McCarthy said. Ayres was born in Springfield and went to school there. A son lives in California, and his mother, five brothers, two sisters and four grandchildren survive him.

Lynn Antis, assistant director of the Eugene Mission, remembered Ayres, although the man hadn't stayed at the shelter for at least 10 years.

"David had been in trouble for many years," Antis said. "He was a chronic alcoholic. ... He just wouldn't cooperate whether it was in his ability or not."

An autopsy determined that Ayres had drowned and found nothing suspicious about his death.

Ayres died with cash in his pocket, Smith said. "We don't think there was a robbery," he said. His family held a memorial service on Saturday underneath the Washington-Jefferson Bridge in Eugene.

Two more people have died this week.

On Sunday, a man spotted the body of a woman, later identified as Angela Gaye Wilson, 44, underwater near the Jasper Bridge.

Then, on Tuesday, Tucker was found dead under the bridge that spans the Willamette between Glenwood and Springfield.

Investigators are treating Wilson's death as suspicious. "We treat every death as a homicide initially, until we rule it out," Smith said. "We don't know yet."

Court records indicate that Wilson lived in Portland for a while in the 1990s. She was back in Lane County in 2000, when she was cited for trespassing. She spent a lot of time in the area near Highway 99 and Roosevelt Boulevard, investigators said. Sometimes, she stayed at the Eugene Mission.

An autopsy uncovered no cause of death, so detectives are waiting for toxicology tests, which can take six weeks to complete. In the meantime, they're trying to retrace the last week of Wilson's life.

Tucker died from physical illness, most likely because of emphysema.

He had been living under the Main Street Bridge for years and had begun using a wheelchair to get around. He often panhandled near the bridge and had a number of arrests for trespassing and drinking in public.

Springfield's Sgt. McCarthy said Tucker, his brother Carl Tucker and their sister, Linda Carevelli, all were homeless. They stuck together and protected one another. But Carl Tucker died of a heart attack in June 2003, and Carevelli died six months later.

"I don't know where they came from originally, but they all showed up here around 1992," McCarthy said.

Lloyd, the homeless man, said he doubts that many other homeless people believe detectives when they say the deaths are not connected.

"That doesn't stop the fear," he said. "I don't think they can convince anybody here."




WHO WERE THEY?

Nick Hodge Welling

Age: 58

Body found: Aug. 21, in the Willamette River south of the Owosso Bridge.

Circumstances: According to court records, Welling had long struggled with alcoholism and mental illness. An autopsy found a high blood alcohol content but no physical injury or evidence of foul play.

Michael Brian Brayton

Age: 37

Body found: Sept. 13, in a side channel of Willamette River near Lanes Turn Road.

Circumstances: Brayton's roommate told investigators he walked away from their Franklin Boulevard apartment on Sept. 7 at 11:30 p.m. A witness reported seeing a man matching his description floating down the river on a railroad tie. The cause of death has not been determined, but investigators found no evidence of an assault or foul play.

David Hal Ayres

Age: 50

Body found: Sept. 20, in the Willamette River near the D Street boat ramp.

Circumstances: A Springfield native, Ayres had been homeless for more than a decade. An autopsy indicated that he drowned and uncovered no sign of trauma or foul play.

Angela Gaye Wilson

Age: 44

Body found: Oct. 2, in the Willamette River near the Jasper Bridge.

Circumstances: Investigators are treating Wilson's death as "suspicious." An autopsy did not determine a cause of death, and toxicology results won't be back for six weeks. She frequented the area near Highway 99 and Roosevelt Boulevard in Eugene and sometimes stayed at the Eugene Mission. The sheriff's office asks anyone who may have seen her in the week before her death to call investigators, 682-4167.

Marvin Milton Tucker

Age: 51

Body found: Oct. 4, under the bridge over the Willamette River between Glenwood and Springfield.

Circumstances: A longtime fixture in the local homeless community, Tucker often panhandled near Old Franklin Boulevard and Main Street. He had suffered lately from emphysema, and investigators believe that the disease may have killed him. They are awaiting autopsy results.



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WHO WERE THEY?
Nick Hodge Welling
Age: 58
Body found: Aug. 21, in the Willamette River south of the Owosso Bridge.
Circumstances: According to court records, Welling had long struggled with alcoholism and mental illness. An autopsy found a high blood alcohol content but no physical injury or evidence of foul play.
Michael Brian Brayton
Age: 37
Body found: Sept. 13, in a side channel of Willamette River near Lanes Turn Road.
Circumstances: Brayton's roommate told investigators he walked away from their Franklin Boulevard apartment on Sept. 7 at 11:30 p.m. A witness reported seeing a man matching his description floating down the river on a railroad tie. The cause of death has not been determined, but investigators found no evidence of an assault or foul play.
David Hal Ayres
Age: 50
Body found: Sept. 20, in the Willamette River near the D Street boat ramp.
Circumstances: A Springfield native, Ayres had been homeless for more than a decade. An autopsy indicated that he drowned and uncovered no sign of trauma or foul play.
Angela Gaye Wilson
Age: 44
Body found: Oct. 2, in the Willamette River near the Jasper Bridge.
Circumstances: Investigators are treating Wilson's death as "suspicious." An autopsy did not determine a cause of death, and toxicology results won't be back for six weeks. She frequented the area near Highway 99 and Roosevelt Boulevard in Eugene and sometimes stayed at the Eugene Mission. The sheriff's office asks anyone who may have seen her in the week before her death to call investigators, 682-4167.
Marvin Milton Tucker
Age: 51
Body found: Oct. 4, under the bridge over the Willamette River between Glenwood and Springfield.
Circumstances: A longtime fixture in the local homeless community, Tucker often panhandled near Old Franklin Boulevard and Main Street. He had suffered lately from emphysema, and investigators believe that the disease may have killed him. They are awaiting autopsy results.

Angela Gaye Wilson - Who Was She? 09.Jan.2007 14:54

Starla J. Colwell starla_c@yahoo.com

Angie was my cousin. She was not just a nameless, faceless, homeless addict. She was the mother of six beautiful sons. She was my friend and my family. She did not deserve what happened to her and her murderer should be brought to justice. Please know that these people belong to people who love them very much!

Please don't stop looking for the killers!

Thank you,

Starla J. Colwell
First Cousin of Angela Wilson

WHO WERE THEY? 09.Jan.2007 15:13

Starla J. Colwell starla_c@yahoo.com

Amgela Gaye Wilson was a mother of six. I know. She was my first cousin and I loved her very much. She was lost to us due to drugs and no matter what we tried, she was just too sick for us to help.

She did not deserve to die the way she did. Her crime remains unsolved over a year later. My question is why?

Please bring Angela Wilson's killer to justice 22.Dec.2007 18:43

Family nativerose1961@yahoo.com

Angel was killed 2 yrs. Ago no suspect has been found, I feel it was because at that time of her death she was a homeless lost person, and to the justice system she was just a number. We are family that love her and knew her heart before she strayed from Washington state. Angela wasn't always on drugs or homeless, she was a mommy, a daughter and a sister, a very sweet and kind person who would help anyone and never hurt a soul. Angela was a beautiful girl and loving heart, and her grandmother was the apple of her eye. Please if anyone knows anything about her killer or how she was killed please call the local police dept, so we can put closure to this and to being her killer to justice. Her mother needs this peace.