A popular homeless man found dead behind a Marpole dollar store in December 2012 died of "undetermined causes," according to a coroners report obtained by the Courier.
Claire Thompson of the B.C. Coroners Service said in her report that she couldnt conclusively say how 49-year-old Rick Hofs died but suggested he may have suffered a seizure.
Five days before his death, Hofs was admitted to hospital after suffering a seizure and was "managed with anti-seizure medication" before he subsequently left the hospital against medical advice. The report said Hofs had a known history of chronic alcohol abuse and was found next to an empty bottle of vodka. He was dressed in multiple layers of clothing and a hospital bracelet was on his wrist.
A toxicology analysis, however, detected a "low concentration of alcohol" in Hofs body. No prescribed medications or illicit drugs were detected. "Due to Mr. Hofs known history of frequent alcohol withdrawal seizures, it is possible that an unwitnessed seizure event occurred resulting in death," said Thompson, adding that an irregular heart beat and hypothermia remain possible causes of death.
Thompson noted hypothermia is frequently complicated by drinking alcohol because booze increases blood flow to the bodys skin and extremities, making an individual feel warm while at the same time increasing heat loss.
Temperatures in Vancouver were between 2.4 and 5.6 Celsius when Hofs was discovered Dec. 27 in a loading bay behind Amys Loonie-Toonie Town on the northeast corner of 70th and Granville. Vancouver police ruled out foul play after no obvious trauma or injury was observed. Video from a surveillance camera pointed in the general vicinity of where Hofs was sleeping revealed another person in the area.
"There was one individual noted as coming and going in the early morning hours on Dec. 27, who had also reportedly been residing in close proximity to Mr. Hofs," the report said. "Nothing suspicious was observed in the video regarding the individual or in the general area in the hours preceding Mr. Hofs death."
A postmortem exam of Hofs body revealed a fatty liver, a condition commonly associated with alcohol use, taking certain medications and obesity. After his death, friends of Hofs told the Courier Hofs was frail and relied on a walker to get around in the weeks before his death. Many believed Hofs decline was exacerbated by the loss of his pit bull cross, Bandit, four years ago. Somebody stole the dog and despite a search effort by friends the animal was never found.
In January, Hofs sister Louise Wilson, with the help of her brothers friends, hosted a memorial for Hofs at Marpole Place on 70th Avenue.
About 80 people attended, including Wilsons two adult daughters, single moms, seniors, the homeless, young kids, the disabled, a letter carrier, a pastor and the owner of the dollar store.
Friends paid tribute to Hofs in words and song. Wilson left the ceremony saying she felt humbled by the turnout and the warmth of her brothers friends.
She and her brother lost touch more than a decade ago after Hofs, who was a skilled carpenter, said he was going to Vancouver and he would call Wilson. He used to call her on her birthday but those calls stopped.
The Courier contacted Wilson at her home Monday. She received a copy of the coroners report but said she hadnt read it. "I havent opened it and I dont think Im quite ready for that yet," she said.
The B.C. Coroners Service released a report last fall showing 168 homeless people died in the province between 2007 and 2010.
Of those 168 deaths, 45 occurred in Vancouver, the highest in the province, with Victoria (25) and Surrey (15) rounding out the top three cities. No statistics for 2011 and 2012 were available. A City of Vancouver homeless count conducted in 2012 found that more than 1,600 people were considered homeless in the city.