The first was at Curtis Park.
“We thought maybe he was tired,” says Jeanette Vigil. “We had no idea that he had just fallen over dead.”
Vigil, 50, had been out with her granddaughter on a Labor Day walk. She thought it was unusual, sure, to see this man stagger and then lie down in the unshaded sun.
But it’s not that unusual, whether you’re in Five Points or downtown, to see men asleep and often inebriated, the sun burning hot on their faces.
“We didn’t go over and say, ‘Are you OK?'” she recalls. “I wish somebody would have gone over. But we all just thought he was sleeping.”
Within a few minutes the police cars showed up — six or seven, she thinks — and Vigil’s family left the park. She learned from TV news that the man had died.
Police haven’t disclosed the cause of death, except that it’s “not suspicious.”
Just a few hours later, Vigil and her granddaughter, age 6, would see their second corpse of the day.
This time they were walking into the Safeway on 20th Avenue, just a few blocks from Curtis Park. They saw a man asleep in a side entrance, dressed all in black, blocking the door.
He was gone when they came back out, three police cars arrayed around where he’d been. This time they’d put up crime-scene tape — and this, she says, was a sight her granddaughter knew well.
“We better get inside,” the girl said. “There’s dead people everywhere today.”
Police have confirmed only that this man’s death was also “not suspicious.”
Vigil thinks now of her younger years.
“It’s bad. It’s bad in the east side. They’re either selling drugs or doing drugs or both. I used to be just like them, drinking in the park or being stupid, selling drugs or doing drugs,” says the mother of five and grandmother of nine, who describes herself as a lifelong resident of the area.
“I’ve been clean for 25 years now. I just got tired of the game, just got tired of everything that goes with it — always chasing that dragon, and not being there for my kids. Now that my kids are older, I get a chance with my grandkids. I can make it up to my grand-babies.”
She’s scared for her grandchildren to be near addiction and homelessness. These ills are nothing new for her neighborhood, but people are less trusting now; people lock their doors, she says.
“I think it needs to change. They need to start getting these homeless people somewhere to go,” she continues. “Me and my husband always talk about, we wish we had money. We’d build houses for them and homes for them.”
At the least, we can do this.
I certainly don’t blame Vigil for staying put in the park. Like she said, it’s not unusual to see people passed out in public around Denver. And, given that police apparently arrived quickly, I doubt that she could have prevented either man’s death, whatever the cause was.
But, still, it’s probably worth it to call 911 if you see someone asleep in an unusual place. Or, if you’re comfortable doing so, check that they’re OK. You might save a life.