Friday, Oct 24, 2014
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Man discovered dead in woods remembered by loved ones

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BROOKSVILLE - People who knew the man who picked up pounds of trash and scrap off Brooksville's roads called him "pops."

Others who knew James Coak from the homeless camp by Broad Street and Wiscon Road, like Raymond "Ray Jay" Johnson, called him Jim.

"He wouldn't want us to be sad," Johnson said. "I was making steak and eggs this morning, and (Coak's girlfriend, Lori Carpenter) came by saying, 'Jim's dead. Jim is dead.' Well, there goes my appetite. I gave it to the raccoons."

Down a flooded trail of mud farther into the woods Coak, 62, lay in his bed Friday morning with his heart medication clutched in his hand, melted in the sunrays from the three holes in his tent.

"That's what (detectives) were saying," said Mike Mayou, 59, and the arbiter of who can and cannot stay in the camp. "He died with it in his hand around 10 (Thursday night), because that's around when he takes it."

Suffering with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bouts of pneumonia from heavy rainfall and two previous heart attacks, Coak died of a suspected third, Johnson said.

"They found him and he was stiff," Johnson said. "EMT estimated it had been awhile."

The attitude of the four who remain in the camp was somber Friday. It's the sixth person Mayou has lost in the woods in four years, he said. Three years ago, Coak fell on hard times, and approached Mayou, his friend of five years.

"He said, 'Mike, I can't take it anymore. Can I move out here?'" Mayou said.

"Me and Mike told him, 'Hey, don't worry about nothing. We'll take care of you,'" Johnson said.

That was three years ago, they said.

"He was the easiest going guy," Mayou said. "I don't think I met anybody like him. He was a good man. He was in the service. He drove trucks and worked for Cemex. He was a hard worker."

Friday afternoon, a strange man in a bright yellow raincoat entered the camp and walked past Johnson's tent.

"Who are you," Johnson said to him.

The man turned, "Don't worry about who I am." Then he continued onward until the black lettering on the back of his coat became visible. It said, "Police."

"They wanted his identification," said Carpenter, a woman described as being closest to Coak, and his love of the last 13 years. "I can't get the body, because we're not related. His sister has it. I don't know what funeral home he's at."

Carpenter walked into Coak's tent Friday and looked up at the tarp overhead. She blinked her eyes and wiped them with her palms.

"I can't stay here, it's dangerous," she said. "I do a lot of praying to my God. I don't know what I'm going to do yet. I haven't thought that far yet, I'm sorry."

Coak was a man of integrity who had many friends, they said, who enjoyed riding his bike and clearing the roadways.

"He never drank a drop, and he never did drugs, just the drugs the doctor gave him," Carpenter said. "I loved him. We took care of each other, and I made sure he got to the doctor."

"He was 62 years old, worked hard all his life, and this is where he ends up," she said.

Carpenter looked at Coak's tent again and covered her nose with her hand. Johnson hugged her shoulders.

"If you need anything just let me know," he said. "He was a hero."

mreinig@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5271

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