Monday, October 24, 2011

Road Kill Bill, R.I.P.

News item, dated October 13, 2001.
“Wild Bill” Found Dead in Park Bushes Wednesday.

Christopher Nyerges at the memorial  "gravesite" for William Barrios, aka "Road Kill Bill"
-- photo by Francisco Loaiza

A transient known locally as “wild Bill” was found dead at 12:53 p.m. Wednesday afternoon in the bushes of Hahamongna Park, confirmed Sgt. Debra Herman of the Crescenta Valley Sherff’s Station on Thursday night.

“We – everyone at the station here – have had contact with him several times,” Herman said.

“Wild Bill” is formally known as 54-year-old William Pluma Barrios, who was christened with the nickname for allegedly being intoxicated in public (allegedly??) and yelling at people, which has led to many calls to the station. The park, which is right across the street from La Canada High School, was known as Barrios’ most frequented area. (His “most frequented area”?? He LIVED there!)

Barrios cause of death is still not known, as the coroner’s office is awaiting test results which could arrive in a few weeks, said Lt. Brian Elias of the county coroner’s office. However, Elias added that there is no suspicion of foul play in Barrios’ death.

[You can find a photo of Barrios on Facebook or Altadena Patch.  Use the term "Wild Bill"]
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I was saddened to read the above news notice – in fact, I was first alerted about his death by a phone call from Francisco Loaiza.

I encountered Road Kill (as he said he preferred to be called) about 30 years ago, when he would camp in the area around Gould Mesa about two miles north of JPL. In the last 6 or so years, he lived further south in various spots in Hahamongna Watershed Park, and we “talked” often. He would often break into poetry or wild laughter, but we had some semblance of coherency. When he learned who I was one day, he ran into his lean-to and came back with a dog-eared copy of my “Guide to Wild Foods” book, which he said taught him a few local wild edible plants.

Over 3 years ago, when Helen Sweany attended one of my classes, she left her pack behind. She called me to go find it, but it was gone. A few days later, a bus driver called Helen. The bus driver was given Helen’s pack by Road Kill, and Helen got it back intact, with nothing removed! Road Kill told the bus driver that he really enjoyed reading Helen’s notebook about wild foods and survival.

Today, October 24, I recorded a podcast in honor of Road Kill next to his last camp, where someone erected a stone memorial in his honor. You can listen to the podcast on Preparedness Radio Network, with the date October 27, 2011.

Here is the poem I wrote about Road Kill back in 2008. When I gave him a copy, he smiled and then let out a wild laugh. I think that meant he liked it.


Road Kill Bill was rarely seen
He lived under a tree in oak grove park
He was maybe 50, not a teen
Whose homeless life seemed so stark

For weeks we’d see him come and go
But we never together talked
we’d hear his loud alone discourses
caused some fear, car doors were locked

But he never caused us harm
Just a man living life
Under the oak trees he lived
Coming from a life of strife

One day Helen she forgot her pack
When I went back to get it, twas no more there
Helen called me few days later
Saying her pack got back, an answered prayer
A bus driver was given it
And then it was passed to Helen
Found by Road Kill Bill, given to bus driver
Bill was an honest man, not a felon

'Well, I’m not speaking for his past
For I only knew this incident
But finally one day he talked to us
After the outing he said “hi,” coincident
With us wondering who he was
Bill’s the name, they call me Road Kill
Yes he lived in the bush, said he
A lively man, dynamic still
This large man called Road Kill Bill
A scary visage but a friendly guy
Wanting to talk with others still
Who simply asked us Why
And how, do you make fire with stick
Can you really do it
Or is it just a trick
And he told us of reading Tom Brown
Of tracking deer and shelter making
He teethless told us how to improve our fire
And he smiled to see that we were not just faking

Road Kill accepted my apple
To give to his friend the deer
“For my toothless mouth
Cannot chew it, I fear”
Said he lost his teeth
In some past jailtime fight
I wanted to ask why he did time
But feared it would not be right
To open the door of frightful fights
And memories bad and invoking pain
So I just smiled back at him
My curiosity I did restrain

I told him Helen was so pleased
To get pack back with book of notes
He simply nodded that he’d done the deed
He was not a man of many coats
Just living life under a tree
In plain sight for any to see
Wild man of the oaken land
shakes you with his strong hand

When you travel this life
Of valleys and hill
You may sometimes reflect
Upon Road Kill Bill

Food he gets from here and there
No air conditioning, not a care
Bathroom and water are nearby
Wild hair with a simple tie

Not a life that all would live
Most have money that flows through a sieve
On all “necessities” that Bill doesn’t use
Such luxuries can be a noose
Are they Right or wrong
Are they good or bad
These are things that Road Kill Bill
Hasn’t had, and isn’t mad

Lives simply under oak tree
Watches animals that he does see
Bothers no one, uses little
Why should anyone him belittle

Probably not a saint
But carbon footprint zero
His lifestyle make you faint
But could he be a hero?

Written August 23, 2008