homeless death

Substance abuse marked life of man found dead under Maxwell Bridge

2013-01-31T00:00:00Z 2013-02-01T23:51:26Z Substance abuse marked life of man found dead under Maxwell BridgeKerana Todorov Napa Valley Register
January 31, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The homeless man found dead in a tent pitched under the Maxwell Bridge on Jan. 3 has been laid to rest at St. Helena Public Cemetery in an area reserved for indigents.

Thomas Milton Roswell, 59, was buried Jan. 16 at county expense in a gray, cloth-covered wooden casket, said Ernie Rota, co-owner and funeral director at Claffey and Rota Funeral Home in Napa.

A small white stone marker will be placed to mark his grave, but it will be nameless, as is the case with other indigent burials.

No relatives attended the burial. A son contacted by Claffey and Rota was not interested in coming, Rota said. A brother who lives about 100 miles from Napa called the cemetery the day Roswell was buried but has yet to stop by, cemetery manager Carol Sanderlin said.

Roswell’s cause of death was not suspicious, but remains undetermined pending final toxicology results, according to his death certificate and the Napa County District Attorney’s Office. But those who knew him over the years say they believe Roswell drank himself to death.

They also remembered Roswell as a funny and cool guy who loved to play the guitar.

Shawn Greene, 50, had seen Roswell off and on over the years since the 1980s. Roswell would hang out with people who drank and drank, said Greene, who delivered him meals at a Napa apartment years ago. “I think he drank a lot,” he said.

Ben Crain, a homeless man, met Roswell at a residential treatment last summer last year. Roswell had relapsed into alcohol, said Crain, 33.

Still, he remembers Roswell as someone who could be very funny. “He was a nice guy,” Crain said.

Over the years, Roswell, a welder and painter originally from San Diego, had been in and out of jail for various crimes, including burglary, battery, petty theft and public intoxication, according to court records.

In 2007, he was sentenced to four years in state prison after he pleaded no contest for second-degree burglary for breaking into Val’s Liquors on Third Street, according to court records. Police found him two blocks away hiding in the bushes with two bottles of Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum, the records show.

Roswell’s estranged wife, Leslie, died last fall in Stockton after a long illness, according to her obituary and a family member. Thomas and Leslie Roswell split up soon after their son was born in 1981, said Leslie’s mother, Patricia Ruckman of Napa.

Ruckman, who had not seen Thomas Roswell for about two decades, remembered him as a “nice-looking fellow,” but one who never seemed “to get it all together.” He drank and had a temper, she recalled.

Another woman from San Diego, Sheila Ford, said she married Roswell when she was a teenager. She and Roswell had three children together before she left him in 1975.

Several months earlier they had come to Napa where Roswell had hoped to find work as a welder at Kaiser Steel. But he could not work because his hands shook due to the drugs, Ford recalled.

Roswell was a “very likable guy,” Ford said. “I had to leave him because of drug and alcohol abuse.” Roswell never helped her with the children who are now grown, yet she remembers him as a talented welder, painter and plumber, she said.

“It’s too bad he couldn’t be there for his children and his grandchildren, but he chose the lifestyle he did,” Ford said from San Diego.

Copyright 2015 Napa Valley Register. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(17) Comments

  1. bluecollardoctor
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    bluecollardoctor - January 31, 2013 3:53 pm
    Very good choice there, the Capt'n Morgan. I like to do the Capt'n Morgan pose, really takes the strain off the low back. Anyhow, whatever.
  2. reminder
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    reminder - January 31, 2013 4:15 pm
    Interesting to understand how he came to this sad end...terrible how drugs and drink can rob a good person of their family and their life. Makes him seem like more of a human, than a homeless man who died in a tent by the river. Rest in Peace, Thomas.
  3. napa1957
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    napa1957 - January 31, 2013 4:38 pm
    At first I thought...oh, no..let this poor man rest in peace...don't bring up the trials and tribulations of his life. Then, I thought that if only ONE person who, in their heart of hearts knows they are on this same path, takes a moment to realize it and gets help because of this article...how good that could be. I KNOW it can be done.
  4. rpcv
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    rpcv - January 31, 2013 6:16 pm
    Why would his marker be nameless? That seems unnecessary. We know who he was. Despite his tragic life, he deserves his name on his grave marker.
  5. Napahomeowner
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    Napahomeowner - January 31, 2013 7:13 pm
    I am pretty sure the you guys at the Register need to check yourselves. This article is completely inappropriate, unprofessional and unnecessary. Both the writer and editor should be ashamed of themselves. They have NO right to judge this person, no matter how anyone looks at it. Even if a person makes bad choices, those choices do not define that person. This is just SO out of line, I am just amazed. NOT COOL!
  6. love-napa-valley
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    love-napa-valley - January 31, 2013 8:57 pm
    I agree w rpcv .. What human been doesn't deserve at least his name on the marker .. Despite his life's mistakes.... It just makes me sad to know that his family wasn't interested on saying good bye to him. We as humans are so hurt and insensible to our own race ..
  7. napablogger
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    napablogger - January 31, 2013 9:32 pm
    napahomeowner I see this exactly the opposite of yourself. The article does not judge him at all, but simply reports on his life. They quote people who knew him and their response to his death, without editorializing. In doing that they are reporting facts, not judging him.

    In reporting the life of someone who was homeless, and not an empire builder winery owner big rich person, they give importance to his life. The copy expended on talking about him gives mattering and respect to his life. He matters enough to get an obituary, which indeed he does.

    I applaud the Register for taking the time and care to report this and it is valuable for all of us to know about him, and what happened to him, sad though it may be. It gives us a chance to care and maybe make the world a little better place for it.
  8. napablogger
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    napablogger - January 31, 2013 9:34 pm
    rpcv I suspect that it costs money to engrave it, but I agree, his name ought to be on it even if taxpayers have to pony up
  9. littlered56
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    littlered56 - February 01, 2013 7:13 am
    Where were the church leaders to give this lost man a Christiian service?? He is a chilld of Gods and you cast him opp as unworthy of your prayers and Christian burial, I think God has fiorgiven him his sins but you Christian hypocrits...you sure failed this time
  10. Red Dirt Town
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    Red Dirt Town - February 01, 2013 8:40 am
    As as tax payer here in Napa County, I would not mind helping with a name on the stone. One of his children will at some point want to understand their father's life. And the headstone is a part of how we honor life, even a troubled life.

    Just a thought, but could the wine auction help with a 'Donation for Dignity' program?
  11. fmmt47
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    fmmt47 - February 01, 2013 11:08 am
    I knew Tom for many years and don't think that the Napa Register was out of line in printing this story, maybe his legacy will do some good when someone reads the story and turns their life around when they realize death or incarceration is your only option when you follow this type of lifestyle RIP Tom..
  12. valleygrl
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    valleygrl - February 01, 2013 12:05 pm
    Maybe now that all of these articles have been written the NVR will let this man rest in peace.
  13. Just Concerned
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    Just Concerned - February 01, 2013 6:26 pm
    A very sad and short life of a fellow human-being. He is at peace. I would like to thank the NVR for this article. Humbling.
  14. Old Time Napkin
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    Old Time Napkin - February 01, 2013 7:35 pm
    littered, you are making some assumptions that this man was a Christian. Perhaps he might have been an atheist or Jewish or had no religion. Your bashing of church leaders is dead wrong as you do not have all the facts to make this type of statement.
  15. glenroy
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    glenroy - February 05, 2013 7:40 am
    Maybe he wanted that way....maybe it's on order, depending on where you order it from it can take up to a year.
  16. glenroy
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    glenroy - February 05, 2013 7:49 am
    It's very sad Reminder...most of our Bel-Air Jr High group became a drug users by high school all but two of us never looked back...most are long gone, one lived like Thomas is now a ward of the state bandoned by his family, several died in car wrecks, one taking his entire family with him in a horrible headon in Jameson Canyon they all burned to death including his children...one out of his mind living Hickeria...just 2 of 18 made to 50.

    Life's tough enough as it is...at least Thomas took it out of his home...that's about the best I can say.
  17. Ronco99
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    Ronco99 - February 06, 2013 9:47 am
    But for the grace of god go I.
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