Two homeless Rapid City persons found dead by the Interstate 190 bridge at Exit 1C on Sunday are suspected of having died from the cold.
City police identified them as Ernie Evans, 58, and Connie Red Nest, 54, who were in a romantic relationship.
Evans was found lying on his back under the bridge. Red Nest was seen lying against a tree west of the bridge, according to a police department release. Officers were called to the area around 10:15 a.m. Sunday after a passerby saw Evans' body.
Investigators say the bodies show no signs of trauma or foul play.
The deaths appear to be from hypothermia, but autopsies will be conducted Wednesday to ascertain the causes of death, said Pennington County Sheriff's Office sergeant and deputy coroner Ed Schulz.
Sunday posted a high of 11 degrees and a low of minus 6, the fourth coldest temperature in the city this winter, according to the National Weather Service. The average low in January is 16 degrees.
New Year’s Day has so far seen the lowest temperature at 18 below zero, followed by Jan. 16 at minus 13 and Jan. 15 at minus 7.
This has been an unseasonably cold — and lethal — winter for Rapid City’s homeless population.
On Christmas morning, 69-year-old Alan Jack was found dead on the ground in the 200 block of E. St. Andrew Street. Acquaintances said he frequented homeless shelters. Jack died from hypothermia due to exposure, said Schulz of the Sheriff’s Office.
On Jan. 23, Alton Pumpkinseed was found dead under the bridge in the area of Cambell and East St. James streets, where he was believed to have been living for some time.
Police spokesman Brendyn Medina said Pumpkinseed, 44, died of “natural causes,” or an illness, though he was also exposed to the cold.
In response to Jack’s death, One Rapid City, a local organization dedicated to tackling community issues, held a meeting Jan. 4 to try and come up with solutions to the lack of a local emergency shelter.
In the couple of weeks that followed, pop-up emergency shelters opened their doors on different nights, including Canyon Lake United Methodist Church on Jan. 12 and First Presbyterian Church on Jan. 15.
The Rapid City Police Department said it's working with Mayor Steve Allender's office toward long-term solutions for improving the safety of Rapid City's homeless population.
Meanwhile, the police department is asking members of the community to call 394-4131 if they see people who could be at risk of overexposure to the cold. Police can help them find a safe and warm place to stay, whether at the home of a relative or friend, the local homeless shelter or the detox center.