Nobody knows why Jason Piester died. His body was found in Lions Park in LaPorte on Aug. 1. At the time of this writing in late August, the results of toxicology and other tests had not yet been returned. Larimer County Sheriff’s spokesman John Schultz said it has not been determined if foul play was involved in Piester’s death.
What his friends in the LaPorte area do know, is that he was a kind, gentle man, who lived outdoors near Lions Park for 20 years. Most didn’t know his last name, but at age 39 at the time of his death, he had become a fixture around LaPorte. He frequented the gas station, hardware, liquor and grocery store, the pizza place and the car wash. Often he did odd jobs — sweeping the parking lots, fixing hoses, picking up litter and emptying trash barrels for shop keepers — in exchange for a little cash. Sometimes his friend “Cowboy” would buy Jason a breakfast of biscuits and gravy to get his day off to a good start.
Jason’s close friend, Shelley, nicknamed “Riverbeast,” is devasted by his death. During the time when her husband was ill, Jason helped her by staying with him so she could get a break, watching her home while she was away, and generally tending to her welfare. “I used to see him at least twice a day,” Shelley said. Sometimes, when Jason was upset, Shelley was able to calm him.
She stops by the informal memorial that has grown up at the picnic table in Lions Park every day and says a prayer for him. Rocks, flowers and notes have been left. One note from a small boy recalled that his dad would bring beer and cigarettes to Jason now and then.
A feral cat that showed up near Jason’s outdoor “home” was soon sleeping next to him every night. “I called the cat ‘Angel’ and Jason called it ‘Evil,'” Shelley said, but he loved that cat.
Mica Clark, 13, who calls herself a “pagan Buddhist hippie,” joined with a friend to honor Jason with a ceremony to release his soul at the tree where he slept each night. Clark, an eighth grader at Cache La Poudre Elementary School, had promised herself to get to know Jason better during last summer.
“He didn’t talk much,” she said. “I’d always say ‘hi’ to him in the morning. I loved his orange pants with little mirrors in the hems. I felt so sad to think that he died alone.”
Clark says that recently Jason had become heavy, sported dredlocks and sometimes looked kind of dirty. But none of that mattered to her. He was one who loved the outdoors and appreciated every sunrise and sunset.
Shelley said the last three years of Jason’s life were tough. At one time he’d staked a claim to a culvert where he could escape from the cold, but reconstruction at Lions Park meant the loss of that retreat. She praised local paramedics who knew Jason and cared for him.
Quiet, kind, polite and always around, carrying his bedroll on his back, everyone in LaPorte came to know and care about him. His way of life was different from theirs, but he became one of their own.