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Kevin Woster

Kevin Woster

It was hard to sleep that night, as I lay in bed and obsessed over the guy I watched walk slowly off into the sub-zero night.

Who was he? Why was he out there in front of our house a few minutes before midnight? And — in a thought that came to me only after he had walked away — was he headed toward his death, on such a cold and potentially lethal night?

That last thought prompted me to call the police, even though I felt a little silly in disturbing a dispatcher at 11:55 p.m. on a Saturday night to report, well, to report what?

That there was a guy out in the street? And he walked away? So?

So, we’ve lost people in cold nights in this city. We lose people in this city. Homeless people, out there on the icy edge.

So I was relieved when the dispatcher took my call seriously and was quick to send a patrol car. Knowing someone in uniform was out there looking helped me sleep, if not particularly well.

Next morning, Mary asked a tough question:

“Did you think at the time about going out on the step and calling over to him to ask if he was OK, or needed help?”

I didn’t at the time. But I have since. A lot.

In truth, I was spooked when I glanced out the front-door window and saw the dark human shape sitting on a stump across the street, staring — it seemed — at our house.

We’d just come back from the Don McLean concert in Deadwood. I was doing the last rounds downstairs, checking doors to make sure they were locked and shutting off lights. My last stop is the front door, for a quick scan up and down the street.

That’s when I saw the guy on the edge of the street-light glow, wearing dark pants and coat with the hood pulled tight around his face. Startled, I stepped back from the door, then stepped forward to watch him sit stone still on the stump.

Then I got my binoculars for another look. I could only see the guy’s face, which looked young — 20 something, maybe? As I looked, he rose, walked out into the street and stood looking west for a minute, then turned and walked east, toward West Boulevard.

Toward what place? Toward what fate?

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By Monday, I was asking that question again, as I read a story about a homeless couple, Ernie Evans and Connie Red Nest, who had been found dead from exposure near the I-190 Bridge, just north on West Boulevard, not so many blocks away.

Could the “guy” I saw have been Evans, or even Red Nest, covered up by all that clothing? I thought not, based on their age and the face I’d seen through the binoculars. But I wanted to know more, including what had happened after my late-night call to the dispatcher.

Police records show that the officer who responded never found the person I reported. And information on Evans and Red Nest indicates they died sometime Saturday night or early Sunday morning.

After talking with police, I’m almost certain the person I saw across from our house that night wasn’t one of the two who died. But only almost certain, which leaves room for uneasiness about what I did, and what I didn’t do.

I hope I’ll have the courage to do more next time. And in this town with this weather and with this homeless population, there will be a next time.

For all of us.

Kevin Woster has been a reporter in South Dakota for 40 years. He now writes a blog and does radio commentary for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He can be reached by emailing kevinwoster@rushmore.com.

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