MODESTO — Dozens of people will gather tonight at The Salvation Army shelter on the edge of downtown to remember the 11 homeless men and women who died in the Modesto area in the past year.
This is the seventh year that homeless advocates will hold a candlelight vigil for those who lived and died on the margins.
"They don't get any real respect. They go through tough times out there," said Katherine Kempinski, one of the vigil's organizers. "At least we can give them dignity in their death. Everyone deserves some sort of memorial or recognition of their death."
The vigil is part of National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day. It is being organized by The Salvation Army, Stanislaus County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, and Corner of Hope, a Golden Valley Health Centers clinic for the homeless. Kempinski is Corner of Hope's patient care coordinator and outreach representative.
The list of the dead was compiled by those who work with the homeless and may not reflect all of the homeless who died in the past year. It includes Brett Saccucci, 50, who was found dead in a makeshift tent Dec. 7 in downtown Modesto. His cause of death is pending.
"He's at peace. There will be no more drugs," said Saccucci's mother, Mary Saccucci of Jamestown. "He had a heart as big as the world. He'd help anyone. He was a good person. The only thing that was hard on him was he was a drug addict. He had a sickness. Drugs and alcohol is a sickness."
Brett Saccucci was born and raised in Stockton and settled in Modesto after serving in the Navy and Coast Guard. He was a truck driver and the father of two sons.
Mary Saccucci said her son's addiction got him in trouble with the law.
Court records show prosecutors filed charges against him six times, for such crimes as being under the influence of a controlled substance and taking a car without the owner's consent. Brett Saccucci pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery in one case and felony threats in another.
Mary Saccucci said the last time she spoke with her son was in November, when he was in a drug rehabilitation facility in Modesto. She said her son will be buried today at the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella. His survivors include his father, Ray, two brothers and two sisters.
The causes of death for the 11 homeless people reflect the struggles and dangers of life on the streets:
A 19-year-old woman who had been staying at the Modesto Gospel Mission died of a drug overdose.
The body of a 47-year-old man was found in a west Modesto canal.
Five died of natural causes, but at relatively young ages: 47, 50, 50, 59 and 62.
Stanislaus County Deputy Coroner Tom Killian said the homeless can die young because they have damaged their bodies with drugs and alcohol and from the cumulative effects of not receiving adequate health care.
The homeless who attend the vigil will not leave empty-handed. Kempinski said Boy Scout Troop 440 has collected more than $2,000 worth of toothbrushes, toothpaste, blankets and other basics and will hand them out at the vigil.
The event starts with a reception at 5:30 p.m., followed by the vigil at 6 p.m. in the chapel at The Salvation Army's Berberian Homeless and Transition Shelter, at Ninth and D streets.
Bee Senior Information and Research Specialist Karen Aiello contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2316.
Lourdes Dennie, 47: Died Nov. 6 at Doctors Hospital in Manteca; cause of death pending
Kaitlynn England, 19: Died June 9 of a drug overdose at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto
Vernon France, 47: Body found Dec. 11 in canal along Chicago Avenue in west Modesto; cause of death pending
Cheryl Geier, 59: Body found Jan. 12 in a Modesto hotel room; died of natural causes
Joyce Hogue-Bradshaw, 56: Died Dec. 5 at Doctors Medical Center; cause of death pending
Brian Marshall, 50: Died June 11 of natural causes at the Modesto Gospel Mission
Randall Morris, 47: Drowned Aug. 3 in the Tuolumne River
Darrell Nachatelo, 62: Died July 12 of natural causes at Alexander Cohen Hospice House in Hughson
Brett Saccucci, 50: Died Dec. 7 in a makeshift tent in the 600 block of J Street in Modesto; cause of death pending
Dave Snyder, 47: Died Sept. 12 of natural causes at Doctors Medical Center
Mike Varela, 50: Died March 30 of natural causes at Oak Valley Hospital in Oakdale
Vigil organizers said these people were homeless at some point in the past 12 months in the Modesto area. The Stanislaus and San Joaquin county coroner offices provided cause of death and other information as it was available.