Byron Stafford said he has seen lots of dead people because he once worked at a motel. So when the 51-year-old homeless man happened upon a body near the Roberts Foreman House on North Carson Street early Thursday, he wasn't that freaked out.
"I just did what I had to do," said Stafford, who had flagged down a passing deputy to tell him, "we got a dead guy over here."
Detective Dena Lacy said the deceased man was a 35-year-old from Carson City with no fixed address. His name has not been released.
Stafford said when he met the man Wednesday afternoon outside the Roberts Foreman House, he didn't get the impression he was homeless. The stranger offered Stafford a shot from his fifth of Black Velvet Canadian Whiskey, and Stafford said he broke the seal and took two swigs. Then he handed it back to the man and left him sitting there while Stafford returned to his camp next to a building across the street.
He said he's uncertain of how much time passed, but hours later, about 4 a.m. according to emergency dispatch reports, Stafford noticed his sunglasses were missing. He went back to the Roberts Foreman House to look for them.
He didn't find his glasses, but he did find the man face down in a heap alongside the house and an empty fifth of whiskey.
"I tried to wake him up first 'cause it was going to get cold, so I shook him and he didn't wake up. Then I felt for his pulse on his hand," he said. "And then I said, 'Uh oh, there's something wrong here.'"
Stafford spends his days and nights outside and has done so for the past three months since his arrival in Carson City. He has a sleeping bag and boots to keep him warm at night, and on Thursday morning he was wearing slippers because he had to give his feet a rest. He thought about checking into the homeless men's shelter in town, but the fact that you can't drink, "might be a problem," he said. He likes his beer. He says he stays away from the hard stuff.
While investigators and an autopsy are trying to determine the cause of death, Lacy said there were no signs of trauma and only moderate signs of hypothermia.
Stafford said he is pretty sure he knows what killed the man.
"He drunk himself to death. It wasn't cold enough last night to kill you," said Stafford matter-of-factly. "I figure he drank that whole bottle. It's one thing to drink a little bit, but you drink a whole bottle of that stuff, come on now, it'll kill ya."
The cause of death is under investigation.