A homeless man found dead outside a downtown church after a frigid night last month was the first person killed by hypothermia in the District this winter, the city's chief medical examiner has ruled.
Juan Pastor, 39, a Guatemalan immigrant who had lived on the city's streets for about two years, was found dead Jan. 17 on the steps of Asbury United Methodist Church at 11th and K streets NW. The low temperature that day was 18 degrees.
"This confirms all the concern about cold weather," said Mary Ann Luby, outreach coordinator of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. "People do die."
Chief Medical Examiner Jonathan L. Arden said Pastor died of hypothermia caused by exposure. A contributing factor was "chronic alcoholism with acute intoxication," Arden said. He said Pastor's "substantial" blood-alcohol level caused his body to lose heat more quickly.
Pastor worked occasionally as a day laborer and was not believed to have any family in the United States. People who knew him said he was plagued by alcoholism.
Pastor was in treatment for several months in 2001 at an outpatient substance abuse program in Columbia Heights. But Eliana Labarca, a clinical social worker, said he left the program in August 2001 and resisted outreach workers' efforts to have him return.
"We would . . . try to convince him to come back," she said. "But he just didn't come back."
Pastor told the clinic staff that he immigrated to the United States in 1989 and worked as a field hand in Florida until he moved to the Washington area about 2000 or 2001, Labarca said. Other men on the street and social workers knew him by the nickname "El Indio," because of his Maya Quiche roots. His wore his black hair shoulder-length and spoke two or three indigenous languages. Spanish was his second language.
He was known to sleep on the landing of Asbury United Methodist, where he frequented the weekend breakfast program, said church secretary Barbara Hoggard. The church regularly gave blankets and warm clothing to Pastor and other men sleeping outside and often tried, without success, to persuade them to find shelter, Hoggard said.
A memorial service for Pastor was held last week at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church on Connecticut Avenue NW, which sponsors a breakfast program for the homeless and where Pastor was a regular until a few months ago, said Nancy Lewis, co-founder of the program.
Other social service agencies and the congregation of Asbury United Methodist Church are planning to hold a funeral in the near future.
This winter has been one of the coldest in years, and D.C. officials say they have increased the number of shelter beds available from about 500 last year to more than 800. Police and special shelter vans are charged with bringing in people from the cold.
D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said yesterday that he was still not satisfied with outreach efforts to the homeless but that the city had made progress this winter.
"Had this bitter winter happened last year or the year before, it would have been a true disaster," he said.
A man who was found dead outside Thanksgiving Day -- whom Arden's office had considered a possible hypothermia victim -- died of natural causes, Arden said yesterday.
Staff writer Martin Weil contributed to this report.