Buried in the very tragic story in the Sacramento Bee of a local man with a successful happy life but who descended into madness and wound up camping in the Parkway, and was fatally shot by a security guard who he attacked, is the point we have been making for years about the intersection between the homeless service mall next to the Parkway and illegal camping in the Parkway.
Mike Lehmkuhl crawled out from under the brush at his campsite near downtown Sacramento, where for months he had been sleeping on flattened cardboard boxes, eating scraps of fast food, hiding like a hunted animal. Standing before him was a private security officer in a crisp tan uniform.
It was shortly after 1 p.m. on a cloudy, cool Saturday in January. The security guard, Adam Kelly, had been cruising the area as part of his regular patrol of the city’s River District and pulled over near Lehmkuhl’s site. The business district paid his company to curb crime in the area, and to roust the homeless people who regularly set up camp there.
Lehmkuhl, gaunt and gray with a scraggly beard, grabbed one of the large tree branches that windstorms had scattered about the property, Kelly later told police. The security guard reached for his belt, where he carried a Taser on one side and a firearm on the other.
Lehmkuhl charged, Kelly said, so he grabbed for his Taser but tumbled backward. As Lehmkuhl swung, Kelly pulled out his gun. Seconds later, the guard was on the ground with a broken arm, and Lehmkuhl lay dying with bullet holes in his chest, left shoulder and back….
Mike spent his final months in a makeshift campsite, shrouded in brush, adjacent to the parking lot for the shuttered Rusty Duck restaurant in Sacramento’s River District, where he had worked as a waiter back in college.
“He was a good guy,” said Charles “Chuck” Rowe, a wiry man who had his own campsite nearby.
Because Mike rarely left his camp, Rowe regularly brought him food from a nearby McDonald’s, he said. He reflected on his friend on a March afternoon, sipping a beer near the spot where Mike died.
“He was mellow, the most passive person I’ve ever met,” Rowe said. “He was my friend. Even though he was living in a bush, I could see the intelligence in him.”
The area where the two men camped, roughly bounded by the American River, the Sacramento River, Sutter’s Landing Regional Park and North C Street, is just a mile from the lofts and restaurants of downtown Sacramento. Because of its river access, and its proximity to the Loaves & Fishes homeless services complex, the area is a haven for homeless men and women, whose trash piles, fires and unstable behavior can pose a menacing presence for area property owners.
The River District contracts with Paladin Private Security to patrol the community. The company responds to calls from businesses “that need help on issues that may be lower priority for police,” said district executive director Patty Kleinknecht.