BRADENTON — Homeless advocates and two Bradenton business owners are shocked and saddened at the apparently violent death of a homeless man just south of downtown Bradenton.
Jeff and Christy Mohler, owners of Griggs Plumbing, 1317 12th Ave. W., say one of their employees found Daniel Case, 60, dead behind their business Monday morning.
Police are investigating his death as an apparent homicide, according to Bradenton Police Deputy Chief William Tokajer. A cause of death has not been released, and a possible motive is unknown.
The employee called police about 8 a.m. after finding Case covered in blood, slumped over in a chair behind Griggs Plumbing and Pedro & Jesus Tire Shop, an adjacent business at 1201 14th St. W. The owners of the businesses allowed Case to live behind their buildings.
In front of his chair sat a cinder block that held a razor and other personal belongings, and a thin ledge on the wall next to his chair held a copy of a book titled “The 12 Apostles.”
“He was a really nice man,” said Kristy Mohler. “Always asking if there was anything he could do around here to help.”
Mohler said Case spoke of being a Vietnam veteran who later became disabled on a construction site and lost his job. He slept on a cot behind the two businesses but mostly kept to himself, according to Jesus Martinez, co-owner of the tire shop.
“He was a very nice guy. He never did anything to anybody,” Martinez said.
The Mohlers said Case had recently been talking about getting his life in order, and had a hearing in two weeks to get Social Security benefits flowing. He also talked about reuniting with his daughters, who he had not seen in 17 years, Christy Mohler said.
“He said he wanted to get a place and get back in contact with his daughters,” she said. “It is such a waste. No matter where he lived, he was a human being looking to get his life straight, and then this happens. It is just so senseless.”
Tire shop employee Tom Dilimone said most days Case would come by and ask for the time so he could make meals at nearby soup kitchens. Dilimone said Case was a cordial man, but wary of making friends on the street.
“He would always say, ‘You can’t trust anybody out here.’ He was right I guess. Times are tough out here and anything can happen,” Dilimone said.
Case ate most nights at the Bradenton Salvation Army shelter across 14th Street West from where he lived and died, according to Salvation Army Maj. Robert Pfeiffer.
“He lived in our shelter for a time but had not for many years,” Pfeiffer said.
Pfeiffer said the homeless are often victims of violence, and short of getting into a shelter and entering into a rehabilitation program, there is little protection living on the streets.
“They are an easier target, and with this economic downturn I fear they will become more victims of prey,” Pfeiffer said.
Homeless victims of violent crime many times are victims of other homeless people, often as a result of arguments or robbery, according to Richard Martin, executive director of the Suncoast Partnership To End Homelessness.
“They are a very vulnerable population. Living on the street you are destined to live a short life,” Martin said. “On the street, people are more vulnerable to health problems and violence.”
Martin said the homeless are also more and more becoming victims of hate crimes.
So much so, homeless advocates in recent years have been lobbying for hate crime enhancements for violent crimes against the homeless.
“It is a huge problem in Florida,” he said. “I don’t know if that is the case here, but I am saddened by this and will be interested to see what the police say happened here.”