Dan Eccles’ body was pulled from the Rock River near the Centerway Dam, just downstream from a spot on the river bank where he was known to crawl into the weeds to sleep at night.
Eccles’ world, such as it was, spanned a quarter-mile, unpaved trail along the west side of the Rock River near downtown Janesville. The heavily wooded section of the Ice Age Trail runs north of Centerway, along the tangled railroad hillside just east of Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center.
In that area across the river from Traxler Park where the Rock Aqua Jays perform, observers say they had seen Eccles and still see other homeless men in the woods and along the trails. Some are drunk and dirty. Others sleep on old couch cushions and mattresses in plain view. Some take to the bushes and stay under blue tarps or in tents.
Others hide from view beneath outcropped retaining walls or alongside ravines and gullies where stormwater washes over discarded books of JOB cigarette rolling papers and empty cans of Steel Reserve malt liquor.
Eccles’ death came seven weeks after a fight between two other homeless men in the same area. One of them staggered from the woods, his face split wide open after he was beaten with a tree branch.
As Janesville’s downtown works on revitalization, Police Chief Dave Moore said there’s growing concern about vagrancy and public drinking stemming from a homeless population that seems rooted downtown.
A local social worker said the tight rental market is making it harder for people of limited means to find housing. That’s as some local homeless shelters have months-long waiting lists.
Police and social service agencies recently started talking about plans to address the homeless who live in the shadows of downtown Janesville.
Before his death, Dan Eccles had lived among those shadows.
Eccles, 68, was a Vietnam War veteran. While still a teenager, he served in the 27th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army, a group of fighters nicknamed the “Wolfhounds,” his family said. He fought in Cù Chi in South Vietnam in 1968, fending off surprise attacks from a vast network of enemy, underground tunnels dug by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong armies.
But it was in the wooded shadows tucked just beyond the motions of daily downtown life that Eccles most recently lived, ate, drank alcohol and slept.
It’s where he died.
Moore said city staff and local social service agencies in the months before Eccles death had begun discussing a multi-faceted outreach program for the homeless focused in part around the city’s downtown.
Eccles had multiple recent contacts with the police and courts, putting him on the local radar as a troubled homeless man who moved around downtown using a three-footed cane. He would have been a man a homeless outreach effort might aim to reach.
For Eccles, any outreach now is too late.
Janesville police said Eccles left behind some personal papers, a cane and a coat on a hillside near the ruins of a former brewery along the Ice Age Trail.
The hill drops off to tangled woods to a sandy shoreline along the Rock River. It’s about a quarter mile upstream from the Centerway Dam area where Eccles’ body was found Aug 6.
How Eccles ended up in the river remains unclear, but police think he might have fallen off the hillside and into the water, The Gazette reported earlier.
A medical examiner’s initial findings suggest Eccles had a heart condition, according to a Gazette report. Janesville police say the death appears to have been “accidental” with no signs of foul play or suicide.
Edgerton resident John Eccles, Dan Eccles’ brother, said Dan Eccles had been troubled since young adulthood. He had struggled to move on with his life after Vietnam and had been homeless off and on for years, struggling with alcohol abuse and remaining jobless much of his adult life.
“He was a Vietnam vet and one of the guys whose mind never came home from the war,” John Eccles said. “Two minutes in a firefight can change your life.”
John and Dan both served in Vietnam in the same regiment and were stationed at the same base, but they only crossed paths once during the war, John said. It was during an enemy mortar attack.
John Eccles said he, Dan and several of their siblings had been split up into foster care as children after their home burned. John has spent the last 25 years trying to locate all his siblings, but he said the one closest to him, Dan, had slipped in and out of his life for years.
John said Dan would disappear for months or years. Once, about two years ago, Dan resurfaced in Edgerton, homeless. John gave Dan a month’s rent so he could stay at a motel in Janesville.
After that, John lost contact with his brother. It was the last time he saw him alive.
“Through the years, I tried so hard to help him financially, morally and spiritually. I tried everything. He wouldn’t ever come out of it,” John Eccles said. “What the war did was it made him drink, and drinking made him die.”
According to Janesville Police Department and Rock County Court records, Dan Eccles had a string of misdemeanor arrests and ordinance citations tied to his recent time in Janesville—an existence one court record boiled down to as “homeless—lives on river bank.”
Based on records of police contacts, Eccles’ most recent period of homelessness might have spanned the last three or four months. It would have come in the months after Eccles was evicted from a Janesville apartment in late 2017 after he had been in jail, according to court records.
Janesville police since May 2017 report citing and arresting Eccles more than a dozen times for drinking and disorderly conduct in the downtown area and nearby city parks. In late June, just weeks before he died, Eccles was arrested after he showed up at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center, intoxicated, disorderly and verbally abusive toward hospital emergency room staff and police, according to a criminal complaint.
Earlier, in March 2018, police in Beloit had placed Eccles in an “emergency detention,” according to police records.
Janesville resident Bob Baker, a trail maintenance volunteer with the local chapter of the Ice Age Trail walks sections of the trail near downtown daily. Baker said he had come across Eccles a few times in Eccles’ final days.
Baker, who said he also served in Vietnam, talked to Eccles about the war. In the encounters, he said, Eccles usually was drinking alcohol, and he often seemed despondent and out of sorts.
Once, Baker said, Eccles told him he’d seen a man jump in the river near the Centerway Dam. Eccles said he’d reported it to police, and police told him he’d helped save a life.
Another time, Eccles complained he’d given a man money from his Social Security Disability payout to buy some items at a nearby gas station. He said the man left with the money and never returned.
About a week before police found Eccles dead, Baker said he saw Eccles near the Hedberg Public Library. He said Eccles told him someone through the Veteran’s Administration was helping him find a place to live in Janesville.
According to a record from a July 30 court hearing on Eccles’ disorderly conduct arrest at Mercy Hospital, Eccles was getting mail delivered to the Rock County Job Center in Janesville. Notes on the court appearance indicate Eccles was a “Vietnam veteran” and was “seeking treatment.”
Police found Eccles dead a week later.
A Veterans Administration worker who John Eccles said attended his brother’s funeral did not respond to a Gazette inquiry.
Baker said another homeless man who frequents downtown and the Ice Age Trail told him that in the days before Eccles’s death, Eccles’s skin had turned yellow—a sign of jaundice, which can come from liver problems.
Baker said it was clear to him Eccles needed help. He said he wonders if Eccles would still be alive if he’d gotten medical treatment or even had an emergency commitment, a step he believes might have dealt with his underlying problems, some of which Baker believes stemmed from alcohol abuse.
“He couldn’t handle himself. His homelessness was identified, and his behavior was known about. But his condition, and where he was at with being able to handle himself, I don’t think that was being addressed,” Baker said.
According to a Rock County Homeless Intervention Task Force homeless count from early in 2017, at least 338 people were living homeless in Rock and Walworth counties, either on the streets or in shelters. Most of the 338 were in Rock County, and that number is “probably the tip of the iceberg,” said Jessica Locher, task force chairwoman.
An overnight count July 26 turned up 15 homeless people living outside in Janesville, including some found staying in the woods along the river near downtown.
Locher, who has led the federally-mandated counts for six years, said it’s common not to find many homeless people since many hide because they don’t want to be seen.
But she said the July count revealed the most homeless people ever found in Janesville in a single night.
Locher believes there likely are 350 to 400 homeless people in Rock County on any given day.
Locher said the regional housing crunch makes it more difficult for people to find affordable rental properties.
Locher said local agencies continue housing programs, such as rent vouchers, but those who are homeless and at risk are now competing against people with marginally better means for a slim number of leftover apartments or motel rooms.
Meanwhile, she said, some local shelters have waiting lists of three to four months. Most have policies that bar homeless people who are intoxicated on alcohol or drugs.
Police Chief Dave Moore said as Janesville’s downtown sees revitalization, some residents and business operators have become increasingly concerned about a homeless population that for years has seemed rooted in downtown, nearby parks and other public spaces.
Moore said police have focused on an enforcement effort downtown in the past few months to stem public drinking, disorderly conduct, littering and people illegally sleeping in parks. He said a small enclave of homeless men who congregate in downtown and in nearby parks is responsible for a portion of that activity.
Moore said in the past few months, one homeless man was arrested 17 times, another 15 times, mostly for public drinking and disorderly conduct.
In June, police arrested a homeless man after he beat another homeless man with a tree branch, leaving a large gash on the man’s head and breaking his arm, according to a Gazette report. The two were camping and drinking together in the woods off the Ice Age Trail. It was in the same area where observers say they’d spotted Eccles and other homeless men.
Moore said he believes police have made progress stemming public intoxication and related problems downtown.
Yet, Moore said, using tickets and arrests simply to push a homeless population from one part of the city to another would be short-sighted.
“Simple enforcement and displacement is not the answer,” Moore said. “It really takes a different approach. We see that many of the homeless suffer from mental illness and addiction. We need to address them both,” Moore said.
He said Janesville city administration met earlier this summer with Rock County Health Department authorities and several local social service agencies to begin to form a “multi-disciplined approach” to homelessness.
After the group’s first meeting, police began handing homeless people flyers that explain types of local services that might be available. Moore said that’s a small example of the type of outreach the group hopes can come.
Moore said the group plans later this month to lay out some more concrete plans. Moore said it’s unrealistic to expect police or other agencies can reach every homeless person in the city.
“There’s an acknowledgment that we’re not going to be able to assist everyone. Some people are going to choose to be homeless,” he said.
About a decade ago, John Eccles said Dan was hit by a vehicle along North Parker Drive. At the time, John said, his brother was intoxicated, with a blood-alcohol concentration that was “massive.” He had survived but had to have bones in his leg reconstructed with metal. It’s why he walked with a cane.
It was after that accident that John decided to buy his brother a burial plot. He wasn’t sure how much longer it would take for his brother to die from his own lifestyle.
It took another decade for Dan Eccles’ funeral day to come. John paid for that, too.
“I got to go buy a headstone for him still,” he said. “But at least I know where he’s at now. He’s not cold or hungry or suffering somewhere.”
John Eccles might not have seen another ceremony held for his brother. In the weeds along the Rock River near the big billboard off Centerway where Dan Eccles was known to sit and rest, someone stuck a rusted spoon in the dirt. It was a de facto memorial, a marker for Eccles, set next to a bouquet of wildflowers plucked somewhere along the Ice Age Trail.
The flowers were dry in the dirt. They had fallen out of a beer can cut in half and filled with water.
On the brown post of the billboard, someone scrawled an epitaph in bright green sidewalk chalk.
Under a drawn cross, the message reads: “Dan Ecols Will Allway Be Rember.”
Dakota “Bubba” Cadd eagerly reached into the replica Irv Gullickson semitrailer truck and honked its small horn.
First he jumped, a bit startled by the sound, but then honked it again and again with a smile on his face.
The smile lingered for a moment as Bubba rode in a golf cart looking at the 182 semitrailer trucks that lined Schilberg Park on Saturday afternoon.
Bubba’s father, Rick Cadd, was amazed. The trucks were there to honor his son.
Hundreds of people from across the country gathered at the park Saturday for 18 Wheels for Bubba—a surprise 16th birthday party for Bubba that spread like wildfire on social media after a moment of kindness went viral.
Bubba has Dandy Walker syndrome, a congenital brain malformation that delays development of motor skills, and cerebral palsy, said Peggy Cadd, Bubba’s mother. Because of his conditions, he needs assistance to walk and gets around by wheelchair.
Bubba enjoys sitting in the yard of his home along Highway 26, waiting for semitrailer trucks to drive by and honk their horns. He does this nearly every day.
Mark King, a truck driver for CH Hall Trucking in Stillman Valley, Illinois, passes Bubba on his route to and from Jefferson, he said. King doesn’t have a horn to honk but wanted to find a way to make Bubba feel special.
Last month, King left a CH Hall Trucking shirt and toy semitrailer truck on the lawn for Bubba, he said. He has a “soft spot” for kids with special needs because he grew up with a sister who has special needs.
Peggy shared the story of King’s generosity on Facebook, garnering hundreds of shares and comments from people all over the world.
From that, 18 Wheels for Bubba was born.
At the party, Bubba was named an honorary member of Owner-Operated Independent Drivers Association and of Dairyland Diesel, both organizations for truck drivers.
Ray Hagen, a truck driver from Ontario, California, felt drawn to bring his bright orange truck to the party. He wanted to show Bubba there is plenty of good in the world.
Hagen, a second-generation truck driver, said he is disappointed when he sees kids show him the middle finger or throw things at his truck. Bubba reminds Hagen of his own childhood, when he would travel with his dad and signal to other drivers to honk their horns.
Donations and proceeds from T-shirt sales at the event will go to the Kadd family.
Bubba is one of Peggy and Rick’s 14 adopted children, Peggy said. Seven kids, including Bubba, live at home with them now. They adopted Bubba when he was 9 months old.
The family kept the party a secret to Bubba until they pulled up to the park Saturday afternoon, Rick said. His son was completely “amazed” at what he saw.
Despite the fanfare, Bubba’s birthday was like many others. There was cake, presents, music and balloons.
There was even time for Bubba to get away from the crowd and enjoy a Diet Coke with his girlfriend, Kimmy Peterson.
The two laughed and carried on as teenagers do, in the shadow of an impressive line of big rigs.
Edna E. (Lishinski) Engler
Michael J. Funk
Phyllis E. Gebauer
Ruth Allen Kitchen
T. Allan Logan
David John Matson
Nancy L. Snyder
Millie Rose Wood
The ranks of forgotten Republicans are growing.
Some were forced out, such as Tim Pawlenty, a former two-term Minnesota governor who lost his bid this week for a political comeback. Some, such as the retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chose to leave on their own. Others still serve, but with a muted voice.
Whether members of Congress, governors or state party leaders, they are struggling to fit into President Donald Trump’s Republican Party.
The expanding list of marginalized GOP leaders underscores how thoroughly Trump has dominated—and changed—the Republican Party in the nearly two years since he seized the presidency. The overwhelming majority of elected officials, candidates and rank-and-file voters now follow the president with extraordinary loyalty, even if he strays far from the values and traditions many know and love.
The Republicans left behind are warning their party with increasing urgency, though it’s unclear whether anyone’s listening.
“I hope this is a very temporary place for the Republican Party,” said Corker. “I hope that very soon we will return to our roots as a party that’s very different, especially in tone, from what we’ve seen coming out of the White House.”
The forgotten Republicans—people such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford and Ohio Gov. John Kasich—have been unwilling to sit quietly as Trump steers the GOP away from free trade, fiscal responsibility, consistent foreign policy and civility.
Isolation and political exile have been their rewards.
Their diminished roles leave fewer Republican leaders willing to challenge Trump under any circumstances, even in his darkest moments.
Fact checkers have recorded an extraordinary level of false and misleading statements flowing out of the White House. And beyond dishonesty, some of the forgotten have decried a disturbing pattern of racially charged rhetoric on such issues as immigration, NFL anthem protests and Confederate monuments.
“White nationalism isn’t something I’m ever going to be comfortable with. But it is embraced by or simply doesn’t bother,a lot of Republicans,” said former Ohio Republican Party chairman Matt Borges, once a Trump confidant who was forced from his leadership post after criticizing Trump in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election.
After Trump’s victory, Borges returned to practicing law, while he continues to play a modest role in local politics.
“To me, it became a matter of how much of your soul are you willing to sell. I would be the wrong person to be leading this party right now,” Borges said.
Trump remains popular among rank-and-file Republicans. And the vast majority of Republican candidates across the country this midterm season are pledging unconditional loyalty—and being rewarded with primary victories.
Gallup found that 82 percent of Republicans approved of the president’s job performance earlier this month. That’s compared to just 34 percent of independents and 7 percent of Democrats.
Kasich, who has not ruled out a primary bid against Trump in 2020, said the president’s approval is misleading because the universe of people identifying as Republican is shrinking.
“We’re dealing with a remnant of the Republican Party. The party is not what it was,” Kasich said in an interview.
The term-limited governor said he’s content to focus quietly on addressing issues such as the opioid epidemic and urban violence on a bipartisan basis while the Trump-led GOP focuses on partisan squabbling.
“Let those in the Republican Party who want to be ideological and partisan, let them wallow in their own failures,” said Kasich.
Other GOP leaders aren’t feeling quite so emboldened.
Pawlenty’s quest for a third term collapsed after Republican primary voters determined his experience—and his years-old description of Trump as “unfit and unhinged”—weren’t welcome.
Pawlenty politely declined to be interviewed, but a former aide, Alex Conant, said this week’s result, like those of other primary elections this year, sent a clear message about the modern GOP.
“There’s not a lot of room for dissent in the Republican Party right now,” Conant said. “Moderates don’t feel welcome. And if you’re not loyal to Trump, there’s not necessarily room for you.”
The details might be different, but Pawlenty’s unexpected exit is reminiscent of that of other public officials who have struggled to find their footing in the Trump era.
Bush, another Trump critic, declined to comment for this story. He has been forced into silence, at least in part, for fear of hurting his son’s political career. In June, Donald Trump Jr. withdrew from a fundraiser for Texas land commissioner George P. Bush after Jeb Bush criticized the president’s policy of separating immigrant children from their families at the border.
Another periodic Trump critic, former House Speaker John Boehner, is in the midst of a 20-stop bus tour to help raise money for vulnerable House Republicans.
Just don’t ask whom he’s raising money for.
Spokesman David Schnittger said it was up to each of the campaigns involved to disclose Boehner’s help. “I’m not sure anyone has exercised that option to date,” he said.
Boehner’s successor, Paul Ryan, has seen his once sky-high career prospects flounder in the Trump era. The 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee has occasionally criticized Trump, but he is retiring at the end of the year.
In South Carolina, Republican Rep. Mark Sanford narrowly lost his June primary hours after Trump tweeted he had been “very unhelpful” and highlighted the congressman’s extramarital affair.
Days later, Sanford described Trumpism as “a cancerous growth.” As he prepares to leave Congress, he’s warning the GOP the cancer is spreading.
“We have a president that will tell numerous dis-truths in the course of a day, yet that’s not challenged,” Sanford said in an interview. “What’s cancerous here is in an open political system, there has to be some measure of objective truth.”
“I’m baffled by the way so many people have looked the other way,” he said.
Asked whether he feels like he fits in today’s GOP, Sanford said simply, “No.”
Back in Ohio, Borges vowed that his departure from politics was only temporary.
“The Trump phenomenon is going to end at some point in time. That might be six years, that might be two years, that might be sooner. No one knows,” the former Ohio GOP chairman said. “When it does end, it’s the job of a lot of us ... to make sure that the party is still populated by good, honest, decent candidates and officeholders who we can continue to be proud of.”