Five bodies pulled out of Waller Creek in two years, businesses concerned

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin police confirm five people died in a little more than two years in Waller Creek. Police discovered the latest death Wednesday morning.

Officers said shortly before 8 a.m. they received emergency calls of a body in the water. After arriving at the 700 block of East 5th Street, investigators made a gruesome discovery.

“Officers located a male lying unresponsive who was later pronounced deceased on scene,” said Austin Police Department Officer Destiny Winston.

There is no word yet on how he died or who he is. But, the scene is a familiar one for police officers. It is the fifth body discovered in Waller Creek in two years. 

  • June 2016: James Scott Fusco was found in the creek. They ruled his death an accidental drowning.
  • April 2017: Tia Shane Brooks, 24, was found in the creek. Police say she drowned, too.
  • May 2017: Daniel Michael, 43, drowned in the creek.
  • May 2018: Jesse Perry, 61, lost his life there, too.

The one thing they all have in common: they were homeless.

“It’s definitely an issue that’s since I’ve started working here, has progressively gotten worse and worse,” said Xavier Aguilar, who is a member of the Red River Cultural District Merchants’ Association. The group, which comprises several businesses near Waller Creek, works to attract visitors to the Red River entertainment area.

Aguilar said it is tracking the number of deaths in the Waller Creek, too. “It’s not really a good look to have people dying in front of our business,” he said.

Aguilar said the merchants’ association has taken several concerns to the city about the homeless in the Red River area.

Asst. Chief Justin Newsom told KXAN that officers routinely find homeless people living near the creek and try to connect them with services. But between the homelessness, substance abuse and mental health issues, there is no easy solution.

Aguilar said it is the deaths near the creek that are the most troubling.

“I would like to know is at least is the conversation being had,” Aguilar said. “[Is the city] talking about it? Are they thinking about it?” 

The city is talking about it. But, taking action is taking time. Last December an audit revealed that the city needed to create a task force or special position that would look at how other cities are addressing homelessness. And, develop a “strategic plan” that would coordinate city departments to help.

Those recommendations were directed at the city managers office, two months before the new city manager, Spencer Cronk, took the helm there.

A spokesperson with Cronk’s office said the city manager will take a draft budget to the city council on Aug. 6. The budget development process calls for a designated position to focus on homelessness. 

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