AUSTIN (KXAN) — Roger Autry reached into a north Austin charity donation bin to fish out some clothes early on the morning of Sept. 8, 2016. He stood on top of a grocery cart, stuck his upper body through the door of the metal box and reached in with a crudely fashioned metal hook.
Then the bin’s door slammed shut on the 52-year-old man, who police describe as homeless. One hinge crushed Autry’s right arm and a jaw-like security door clamped down on his throat. There Autry hung, alone for hours with his feet suspended in the air, until a man passing by found him and called 911.
“There’s a homeless man; I guess he is deceased,” a caller told a 911 operator. “He’s stuck in one of those donation bins.”
Police found Autry’s body wedged in the bin next to his bicycle and some clothing. The donation bin was located in the parking lot of the Tech Ridge Shopping Center at the intersection of Parmer Lane and Interstate 35.
Austin Police Department Homicide Detective David Fugitt investigated the death, which was labeled an accident. Fugitt warns that sticking any body part into a donation bin is extremely dangerous.
“It could cause them to become trapped and ultimately end in their death.”
“We want people to know that these dangers exist,” Fugitt said in an interview. “If somebody were to circumvent the safety features on this box, it could cause them to become trapped and ultimately end in their death.”
Autry’s death is highly unusual, but it is not unprecedented. According to media reports, numerous people have died across the country in recent years after being trapped in donation bins.
In the city of Mount Carmel, Penn., a woman’s arm was crushed and she died while pulling bags out of a donation bin in February, according to a report in The New York Post.
On Oct. 11, 2015, a 58-year-old man appeared to have slipped while reaching into a donation bin in Pemberton, N.J. A medical examiner ruled the death an accident caused by compression of the neck, according to a news report.
A 25-year-old man in San Bernardino, Calif., died with his body partially inside a donation bin in December of 2015. He, too, was homeless, according to another news report.
There was another similar death in 2012 in Staten Island, N.Y.; and 2013 in Bridgeton, N.J.; and 2014 in Lansing, Mich.; and 2015 in British Columbia, Canada. Nearly all of those who died were characterized as homeless or transient, according to media reports.
The blue donation bin Autry died in was operated by Arms of Hope, a Texas-based charitable organization. Fugitt said the box had an anti-theft hinge. If a significant amount of weight was placed on it, “there is a metal trap door that closed,” he said.
Some, but not all, of the donation bins in Austin parking lots do have warning labels advising people not to attempt to reach into the bin. KXAN could find no local or state law requiring such labels.
Autry’s son told police his father chose to live on the street, but they would keep in contact with one another.
Crime scene photos show Autry’s bike was propped up on its kickstand next to the bin. Police also found a handwritten cardboard sign on the ground that said, “Please smile, it gonna be a good day, 50 cents please, any-thing will help, God bless you all.”