High Toll on Homeless

Two traffic fatalities involving homeless men last week brought the number of homeless people who were either killed or died on the South Coast this year to 16. The most recent fatality was Hugo Herrera Aguilera-a 62-year-old deaf-mute man from Mexico who typically wore a welding mask, a coonskin cap, heavy coats, and knee pads. Aguilera was struck by a train in Goleta on 10/25. Sheriff’s spokesperson Sgt. Erik Raney said the department received numerous complaints about Aguilera because of his “scary-looking demeanor,” but Raney added that Aguilera”never did anything but walk around in public with a welder’s mask.” Willard Hastings, an attorney who represented Aguilera over the years, said his former client donned protective gear because of previous run-ins with law enforcement officers. Officers would confuse Aguilera’s inability to hear with resistance, Hastings said, and become angry. Aguilera sued the Santa Maria Police Department for brutality-and because there were witnesses, he prevailed. Also, on 10/24, another homeless man, Ricky Michael, 54, died when he was struck by multiple motorists as he walked on Highway 101 near Highway 154.

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