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Dozens may have walked by dead person in Victoria park

No foul play is suspected in the death. The passersby who found the man believe he had been there for some time.
Ken, who has been living at Oaklands Park since November, in an area where a body was found. Victoria police say that no foul play is suspected. TIMES COLONIST

A Victoria resident who found a body in a park on Sunday afternoon that appeared to have been lying there dead for several hours is wondering why no one stopped by to check on the person earlier.

Eric Law, who was taking a walk with his girlfriend and their two dogs through Oaklands Park in Victoria at 1 p.m., called emergency services after he realized a person who was partially covered by a blanket was completely unresponsive.

“I can’t explain why nobody else did. It’s kind of mind boggling … because I guarantee that probably 30 to 50 people would have passed him,” Law said.

Victoria police spokesperson Cheryl Major told the Times Colonist no foul play was suspected and referred further inquiries to the B.C. Coroners Service.

B.C. Coroners Service spokesperson Amber Schinkel said the service is unable to comment on the death due to an active investigation.

Law said he believes the death was overdose-related due to drug paraphernalia found near the body that was about 10 feet away from a footpath at the well-used park and appeared to have been there for some time, he said.

“He was purple. When I tried to move his arm with my foot — I’m no doctor, but you could tell there was rigor mortis. He was as stiff as a board,” Law said.

If the death had occurred on a weekday, schoolchildren attending Oaklands Elementary and the Victoria School for Ideal Education would have likely seen the body, he said.

“We were literally 50 feet from a playground,” he said. “There was a girl doing gymnastics in the baseball field.”

Victoria police, who re­sponded to the scene on Sunday afternoon, put out an advisory on social media asking people to avoid the park around 2:30 p.m. without specifying a reason. “There is no risk to the public but families are advised to avoid the park for now,” police said.

The area was given the all-clear shortly after 3 p.m.

On Sunday afternoon, families could be seen at Oaklands Park playing softball and tennis. A lemonade stand was set up not far from where a father was teaching his child to ride a bike.

Ken, who has been living at the park since November, said the body was found near the park’s baseball diamond. He believes the person was dead by 7 a.m. when he walked by and saw no movement.

Ken said he’s surprised that no one had tried to wake the person up until the afternoon.

“As soon as it hit 12 p.m., the sun’s directly above you,” he said. “If he didn’t die from an OD, he died from the heat,” he said.

Law said he doesn’t want compassion fatigue to set in for people who are vulnerable to the poisoned illicit-drug supply.

“This guy that died, he was somebody’s son. He was somebody’s brother. His life is just as important as yours and mine,” he said.

Alex McCumber, president of the Oaklands Community ­Association board, said he’s concerned at what appears to have been a delay between the emergency call and a response to the scene.

“It seems like a long response time when there’s a known unhoused population using Oaklands Park for camping.”

The park is one of two designated in Victoria that allows overnight camping because it has a bathroom facility, he said.

Sheltering requirements at the park are generally followed by campers and there has been little to no reported overdose-related deaths in the area previously, McCumber said.

The sudden death has left people camping at Oaklands Park feeling on edge. Four people camping in the park, including Ken, said they did not know the person who died.

Cailin, who has been in and out of homelessness for the past five years, said that most people in the area know to come to the southern end of Oaklands Park to use drugs so that someone can help in the event of an overdose.

About a dozen people are living in Oaklands Park, though the number varies from day to day as people move to and from other parts of the city, including the 900-block of Pandora Avenue, Cailin said.

First responders dealt with another medical emergency near the park shortly after 12:30 p.m. on Sunday. The campers said that it was an overdose involving a man who regularly camped at Oaklands Park.

After speaking about the death, some campers left the park to visit Substance UVic, a drug-testing service in North Park.

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