On Sunday afternoon I saw a dead body in Pioneer Park.
My colleague Christopher Smart has recently reported on the deteriorating conditions in the park, as well as the impact of that deterioration on nearby businesses. I spend a lot of time in the area, so I was well aware of those problems — drugs, fights and a semi-permanent encampment all seem pretty normal now. But Sunday was the first time I actually saw a body.
Here’s what happened:
I began jogging around 1 p.m. I was going around the track on the edge of the park when I saw a family handing out food and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer to homeless people. The family included (what looked like) a mom, dad and two young daughters. Each time the family came to someone new, they’d fish a couple of cans of beer and what looked like a burrito or sandwich out of their car.
Several laps into my run, I noticed that this family had begun waking people up to give them the food and beer. As they worked their way down the east side of the park, they eventually came to a gray-haired man lying on the grass beside 300 West, about 50 or so yards north of 400 South.
The mom and the dad tried to wake up the man, but he didn’t respond. I could see that he was lying on his side, with one hand slightly outstretched.
The next time I lapped the scene, the mother and father were standing up and looking worried. The mother was talking on her cell phone. Several laps later, and two fire engines, a few police cars and an ambulance had arrived.
Up until this point, none of this was unusual. Fire fighters and police show up at the park daily, often multiple times, and I’ve called 911 myself on a number of occasions — including once when a woman called out to me that she was dying. On a recent jog, I counted about 70 people who seemed to be either living in the park or hanging out with people living in the park, so there are always a lot of people sleeping on the ground at any given time.
That’s what I thought was going on here, but one more lap around the track proved me wrong: this time, the man was covered, head to toe, in a thin blue medical blanket. He wasn’t sleeping or ill — he was dead.
When I stopped to ask what happened, a fire fighter confirmed to me that the man had died, though no one knew much more than that. I was told the body had probably been there “for awhile.” When I asked what killed him, the fire fighter replied “the lifestyle, I guess.”
When I got to work Monday, I called Salt Lake City Police to see if I could find out more. Spokeswoman Robin Heiden said the man appeared to be a Native American in his 60s. He did not have any identification on him, so investigators were still trying to figure out who he was. The investigation was ongoing, though the death did not appear to be suspicious.
The man’s body was taken into custody by the medical examiner, though a cause of death had not been determined Monday. Heiden added that deaths have been known to happen in the park before.
“I wouldn’t say it’s common, but I wouldn’t say it’s uncommon either,” she explained.
Normally at The Tribune, we cover deaths that are suspicious, violent or particularly prominent for some reason. This incident may not precisely fit those criteria — that’s why you’re reading on this blog and not in the printed paper — but in light of our previous coverage of the park’s troubles, it seems worth remembering this still-unnamed person who died.
— Jim Dalrymple II