Dr. Jeff Lee had often found the names of sweethearts and mothers tattooed on dead mens’ biceps, but on October 26, 1998 he found something unusual. While performing an autopsy on a Charlottesville man that morning, Lee, a pathologist at the state Medical Examiner’s Office in Richmond, noted the mark on the dead man’s left arm. Printed in dark blue letters was the man’s own surname, “Calzada.” Beneath that was “Eduardo.” The initials “EC” were also tattooed on the pad of his left thumb.
But Lee didn’t make much of it. His job was not to ponder what perhaps was a clue to Calzada’s life, but rather to help local investigators solve the mystery of his death. Calzada, a 52 year-old drifter, had died the previous morning in the Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Jail. Arrested for public intoxication, Calzada, then homeless, reportedly was uninjured when he was carried into the Avon Street facility. But when his refrigerated body arrived in Richmond, Calzada had a black eye, a scrape on his forehead, and two eight-inch bruises on his back. The wound that killed him was internal– a fracture that ran front-to-back over the top of his skull. As the pathologist later told County detectives, Calzada died of multiple brain hemorrhages caused by a blunt force trauma to the head. Lee likened the force required for such an injury to a fall from a two-story building. Initially, he suspected a homicide.
Over the next several days, County detectives questioned more than a dozen police and correctional officers who had seen or dealt with Calzada during his final hours.The investigation ended less a week later when, prompted by a tip from a single eyewitness, police officials announced that Calzada had sustained his fatal injuries before his arrest. The fact that Calzada’s blood-alcohol level was later estimated to be .25 (more than three times the legal limit) at the time of injury seemed to support their conclusion that his death was an accident.
More than a year later, some of Calzada’s closest friends still do not believe the official explanations. Several have alleged he was brutalized by police; others have alleged that he was ignored as he lay dying on the floor of his cell. In November of 1998, Calzada’s mother claimed in a lawsuit that the City Police Department had no grounds to arrest her son; she sought $30,000 in damages for alleged assault and battery. Although that suit was later dropped, questions remain. Chief among them is how a a severely injured man managed to pass before the eyes and through the hands of a dozen people without receiving medical treatment. C-VILLE has assembled police documents and Jail logs, as well as interviews with eyewitnesses and several of Calzada’s friends. From that emerges a sketch of a mysterious, but loved, man who died because he received no attention when he needed it most.
For the 15 years he lived in Central Virginia, Eduardo Calzada struggled against a personal undertow. Many times he calloused his hands with carpentry projects only to bail out of a job. He would stay sober for months and then binge on liquor and beer for weeks. He surfaced on friends’ doorsteps only to disappear again. “Ed was two different people,” says one of his closest Charlottesville friends. “Until near the end of his life, he was a survivor who had no time for self-pity. But sometimes, you could look over at him and see a sadness.”
Calzada was born September 1, 1946 in El Paso, Texas. Growing up, he moved back and forth between that border town and Juarez, Mexico. Although his name suggests Spanish ancestry, Calzada touted his Apache heritage wherever he went. Friends also say that he revered nature. Often, he would stop to compare Virginia sunsets, unfavorably, to those he remembered from the West. Each December, he maligned Christmas trees as wasteful. When mice showed up in friend’s house, he bought no-kill traps.
Calzada spent much of his life moving from place to place. In the early 1960s, he enlisted in the Navy and served in Vietnam. When he returned the to states, he traveled through half of them. At some point, Calzada had two children with a woman he did not marry, although he did marry someone else later. By the time Calzada arrived in Charlottesville in 1983, his friends say, his wife was dead, and he had lost touch with his children. For several years, he worked various construction jobs around the City.
According to friends, Calzada was a heavy drinker long before he arrived in Charlottesville. It was New Year’s Eve 1988 when a drunken Calzada literally was carried into Karen Payne’s life. She was working the afternoon shift at Charter House, a drug and alcohol-treatment center, when Charlottesville Police officers brought Calzada in and laid him on a bed. They figured he might sleep off his booze. He was unconscious when Payne first saw him.
“Here was this drop-dead gorgeous Indian with jet-black hair,” recalls Payne, a resident of Crozet. “There was something about him that had an effect on me, even though he was out cold.”
Karen soon fell in love with Ed. She liked his wit, the small gifts he gave her, and the way he could repair an appliance with a coat hanger and glue. At Payne’s home, and later at apartments Calzada rented, and on occasional trips, they spent late nights gazing at stars like any other pair of lovers.
But they were caught in a triangle. From the start, Ed split his time between Karen and a bottle. That fall, the two of them moved to Roanoke where Payne placed Calzada in an intensive alcohol-treatment program. Afterwards, he stayed sober only briefly.
Payne, who had left her family behind, returned to Crozet in the spring of 1990, but her relationship with Calzada continued at its irregular pace. When he was sober, they were together; when he drank, he went off by himself. Calzada rolled pennies constantly to save for drinks. Payne bought him everything else– food, clothes, shoes, glasses, watches, cigarettes.
“They loved each other,” says a mutual friend, “but they both had their addictions. Ed’s was alcohol, and Karen’s became Ed.”
Karen was not the only person who broke the rules for Calzada. In the mid ’90s, Virginia Germino, a homeowner in the prosperous Park Street neighborhood, met Calzada after her son hired him, right out of the Salvation Army shelter, to help with odd jobs. Calzada, homeless at that point, so charmed Germino that she invited him to live in her garage for 30 days.
That became three years,” recalls Germino, an instructor at UVA’s Darden School. During that time, Germino introduced him to her circle of friends, invited him to parties and referred him to neighbors for yardwork or house repairs. On Park Street, Calzada’s sound, inexpensive handiwork became something of a minor legend.
“Ed was gallant, and he was happy when he was working,” says Germino. “Even if I could have charged him rent, I never would have. He liked feeling that he was taking care of someone.”
Germino and other friends remember that Calzada rigorously crafted his own personal, albeit inconsistent, mythology. For instance, he told them that he had no pictures of his children because, as an Indian, he mistrusted photographs; later, he would show them snap shots of himself and Payne grinning at the camera.
When, on many occasions, Calzada told people that he had stopped drinking, his words were unconvincing. Despite friends’ attempts to keep him sober, Calzada could not overcome his addiction. More than once, Calzada sold friends’ belongings to get money for beer. Germino finally asked him to leave when, after a night of boozing, he nearly burned down the garage. Throughout the ’90s, Calzada received at least a dozen citations for alcohol-related offenses, from public intoxication to driving under the influence.
In 1994, Calzada ambled into Kathy’s Produce to apply for a job. There, he met owner Chuck Lewis, who later hired him to unload and drive delivery trucks. He worked from four in the morning until two in the afternoon. Later, Calzada worked for Lewis as a carpenter, a rock-maker, and as a handyman at York Place, the mini-mall Lewis opened Downtown in late 1995. Lewis remembers Calzada as a tireless worker when he was around, but on several occasions Calzada stopped showing up for work.
I’m not very understanding of people making mistakes, but I let Ed come back a couple of times,” says Lewis. “When given half a chance to stand up, Ed was very presentable. He was what our society would call a derelict, but he was clean, polite, someone who made you feel special.”
During his last few years alive, however, Calzada frequently returned to the Charlottesville streets. A friend and homeless drinking buddy named Cecil Garlic remembers Calzada giving him some food and money one cold night. Garlic met Calzada in the early 1990s, and the two spent many nights drinking with a tight group of four or five other men. All of them would bunk out in an abandoned house on Pantops. By day, they scavenged for aluminum cans on the Downtown Mall or the UVA Grounds. Once they had filled several bags, they would take them to Coiner’s Scrap Iron & Metal on Meade Avenue to get money for booze.
“All of us guys were down-and-out, but we’d do OK together,” says Garlic. “We were like brothers. I called Ed “Cochise,” but I also called him family.”
Many people saw Calzada the day before he died, and many were assigned to watch over him as he slept. Yet up until his final moments, perhaps only one person believed he was hurt. After interviewing close to a dozen witnesses and obtaining copies of internal documents produced by both City and County police forces, C-VILLE was able to piece together a rough sketch of Calzada’s last hours.
The final part of his story begins on October 24, 1998, a festive day in Charlottesville. At Scott Stadium that afternoon, the Cavaliers defeated the North Carolina State Wolfpack and boosted their chances to play in a major bowl game. Like many locals who spent the night celebrating, Calzada guzzled his share of beer.
A City officer directing stadium traffic at Barracks Road and Emmet Street noticed Calzada, in cowboy boots, blue jeans, and a red flannel shirt, pass by with a friend in the early evening. Several UVA students apparently offered to buy dinner for Calzada and the other man. According to the officer, Calzada was glass-eyed, coughing, and smelled of alcohol. Later, another City officer patrolling the Corner spotted Calzada loitering in front of Lucky 7 on the Corner with a small group of men and women. Between seven and 10 o’clock, Calzada purchased two quarts of malt liquor at the Corner Market. At some point that night, one of the women in the group worried that Calzada, loud and intoxicated, might draw police attention. When she asked him to split, he headed toward Downtown on West Main Street.
“He was definitely buzzed,” says one acquaintance who saw Calzada on the Corner between nine and ten o’clock. “But he wasn’t staggering or out of control.”
After Calzada headed off on his own, it is unclear how he came to rest flat on his back on Main Street, just in front of the Hampton Inn. Around 10:40 pm, Christine Barnes, a Charlottesville woman, spotted Calzada from her car and stopped to see if he was alive. According to Barnes, Calzada’s eyes were open and he was pointing to his chest, patting it. His pulse felt weak, she says. She did not see any bruises or cuts on Calzada’s head. She says that he seemed injured rather than drunk.
“I was close enough to him to practically give him mouth to mouth,” recalls Barnes, “and I didn’t smell any alcohol.”
Moments later, Barnes spotted a County Police cruiser and waved it down. Officer Mark Gillispie pulled over and approached Calzada. According to statements he later gave to police investigators, Gillispie found Calzada unconscious and shook him several times before finally waking him. Barnes says she told Gillispie that Calzada needed a doctor, and that he should be taken to the hospital.
“The officer told me, ‘No, he’s just a drunk,’” says Barnes. “When I told him I was worried the man might be having a heart attack, he said the man was just drunk.”
Unlike Barnes, Officer Gillispie smelled alcohol on Calzada. An internal County police report states that the officer radioed for a rescue squad as well as for Charlottesville police. City officer Kelly Harrison, driving a police van, arrived first.
Harrison recognized Calzada instantly. Not only had he found Calzada sleeping in the abandoned house on Pantops several months earlier, Harrison had also seen him “staggering” down West Main Street perhaps 20 minutes earlier. Standing over Calzada that night, he, like fellow officer Gillispie, perceived a man so loaded that he could not even stand up. When another City cop arrived moments later, the three donned rubber gloves and lifted Calzada into the back of the van. According to Gillispie’s statements, he called off the rescue unit at the request of the City officers; Harrison says that he has no recollection of that exchange, but he doesn’t dispute it.
As Calzada lay flat on his back in the rear of the paddy wagon, his destination was never in doubt. Although police often drop off drunks at the Mohr Center– a treatment facility for alcohol and substance-abusers– officers say Calzada was too out of it to stay there. Calzada was known to many cops: City Police officers had picked him up repeatedly for public intoxication, a charge made against Calzada at least six times in the last year of his life. Calzada was going back to jail. According to statements he made to investigators, one officer asked Calzada whether he had anything else wrong with him that night. He responded, “Just drunk.”
“I didn’t see a drop of blood on him,” says Harrison, now an officer-in-training with the Baltimore City Police Department. “I was right down the street from the hospital, so it’s not like I wouldn’t have taken him there. If I had done that, I wouldn’t have had to deal with him at all.”
After 11 o’clock, nearly a dozen people laid eyes on Calzada. Officer Harrison took him first to the City Magistrate’s Office where several people stood in the same room with him under florescent lights. None of them noted any signs of injury. According to City officers, Calzada was awake at that point, but on the way to jail, he apparently passed out again in the back of the van. Close to midnight, correctional facility officers met Harrison at the prison entrance. The three rolled Calzada onto a bed sheet and carried him into the jail, a standard procedure for transporting incapacitated inmates, according to jail officials. Several officers then laid Calzada on the floor as they filled out paperwork.
Officers carried Calzada to the ground floor, stripped him naked and then changed him into jail blues. They placed him on the floor of GS-1, a special 4’x6’ cell with no furniture or toilet facilities. Before locking his cell door, officers rolled Calzada onto his side to prevent him from choking if he vomited.
With a non-recording video camera monitoring him from above, Calzada snored, but did not stir, throughout the morning. Not until almost 7 o’clock the next morning did Calzada’s unresponsiveness prompt jail officials to action. One officer had noticed a purplish color on Calzada’s right arm and a wet spot on the floor by his head. Mucus ran from his nose. At that point, another officer arrived at the cell, and both noticed bruises on Calzada’s head and right eye.
After Calzada failed to respond to several shouts, the two guards called for the nurse on duty. According to police documents and prison logs, the nurse was unable to find a pulse and began CPR on Calzada. At 7:05 am, she told officers to call 911. Paramedics were unable to revive him. He was pronounced dead in a Jail hallway at 7:30 am.
For the next week, Calzada’s death appeared to be a case of police brutality. Had officers mishandled him when they placed him in the van or carried him into the Jail? Could one or more of them have roughed him up?
Those questions ceased on October 30, 1998 when Anna Haupt called the police. Haupt, then 19, had read about the Calzada case in the “Daily Progress,” and she believed that she had seen him at the very moment he sustained his fatal injury. According to County case documents, she told detectives that, on the night before Calzada died, from her car she had seen him fall and strike his head approximately one half-hour before police picked him up on West Main Street. Recently, Haupt, a Batesville resident, gave her account of that night to C-VILLE.
“I was at the light coming out of Trax, waiting to turn left on to Main Street when I saw a man over to my left in the parking lot,” Haupt recalls. “He had been leaning over next to a car like he was talking to the people inside. Then he kind of tripped over a curb and fell backwards. His head hit once and then twice. Then the light turned green. As I was pulling away, I saw him starting to get up slowly.”
According to County police documents, Haupt told investigators that “it hurt just watching” Calzada’s fall. On a different note, however, she told C-VILLE that she did not call 911 because she didn’t think that he had been hurt that badly.
“At the time,” says Haupt, “I thought that he was just drunk.”
Haupt’s eyewitness account took the heat off investigators trying to explain how Calzada sustained the fractured skull that ended his life. Although police subsequently called off their investigation, there was still another unanswered question: Did anyone in uniform have any idea that Calzada was hurt?
Haupt’s decision not to call the rescue squad was just the beginning of Calzada’s bad luck that night. The next person to see him thought he needed a doctor and told officers who arrived on the scene. But like Haupt, they believed he was only drunk.
Yet even though the autopsy concluded that Calzada was drunk and that his head injury was the result of a fall, the final report speculates on the other marks found on Calzada’s body. The pathologist who examined him concluded that the bruise on his elbow and the two parallel bruises on his back, for instance, formed when Calzada “struck… the curb edge, or wood or metal that may be found on a nearby construction site.” There was construction in the West Main Street area at that time, but no witness saw Calzada fall amidst any of it. But some of Calzada’s friends find the explanation for those injuries suspicious. Calzada’s black eye, according to the autopsy report, was caused by his fractured skull.
Two former inmates who were in the Jail the same night dispute the claim that Calzada did not appear hurt when he arrived there. One insists that Calzada called out for help and repeatedly yelled for a doctor throughout the night. Speaking on the condition that he not be identified, the man says that he banged on the bars to get help for Calzada, but was ignored by prison officers. The other inmate, now serving time, says that he saw Calzada “conscious and bleeding from the head” when he was carried into the cell.
Jail officers deny those allegations.
“To the best of my knowledge,” says Jail Superintendent John Isom, “Calzada never asked for a doctor and never called out for help. It’s an unfortunate thing. But he looked to everyone like any other drunk person who comes in here and falls asleep.”
County reports reveal that the night before he died, Calzada did not receive a routine medical screening. Apparently, nobody knows why. Although officers signed and dated a health questionnaire, the stapled sheets contain little actual information. On a copy of the document obtained by C-VILLE, the word “intoxicated” is written in the margin with a line extending down the side of the page where answers to medical questions would usually go. Because Calzada was unresponsive, if not unconscious, according to Isom, officers could do nothing more than examine him “visually.”
“If a guy comes in here and can’t answer any questions,” says Isom, “we just take him to his cell.”
Dr. Andrew Wolf, assistant professor of internal medicine at UVA, says that a cursory medical examination might have alerted a nurse that Calzada was not only drunk but also injured.
“There are some things that reasonably would have been major red flags,” says Wolf. “Checking for irregular breathing, a pupilary exam, a vital signs check. Over time, his prolonged unconsciousness would have been a sign, too.”
Yet Wolf says that even severe head injuries such as the type that killed Calzada often do not cause any external bleeding.
“Drunk people act the way he acted,” says Wolf. “In the early hours, the injuries he had would have been indistinguishable to the untrained eye.”
The prison log from that night offers few glimpses of Calzada’s appearance. At 1:30, officers noted that Calzada was sleeping when they checked on him. At 2:00, the logs entry reads, “heavy but still breathing,” a description that, according to some of Calzada’s friends, suggests that officers might have noticed something wasn’t right. Although most Jail employees on duty that night declined to comment on anything else they may have seen or heard, two officers say they believed something was wrong with Calzada. One who asked not be named says that he told other officers about Calzada’s presumed level of intoxication. Although he says he recommended taking Calzada to the hospital, nothing happened. Another officer on duty that night says that Calzada’s prolonged unconsciousness seemed odd.
Even if someone is really intoxicated, they will move some,” says the officer. “But [Calzada] never moved or talked. I see drunk people all the time, and something was different about the way he was just lying there.”
Strangely, that same officer says that he immediately noticed a bruise on Calzada’s forehead and a pale color to his hands. But he did not alert anyone to this because, he says, “I just didn’t feel it merited medical attention.”
According to Isom, the Jail has not established any new policies since Calzada’s death. Health screenings, he says, are given to at least “90 percent” of incoming inmates provided that a nurse is on duty at the time. Given the severity of Calzada’s hemorrhaging (as described in the autopsy report), UVA’s Dr. Wolf says that even immediate surgery might not have saved his life. Yet Wolf and several other local medical officials say there is ongoing potential that someone else might arrive at the jail who, like Calzada, is drunk and severely injured.
Shela Silverman, director of the Drop-In Center for the homeless, is one of several of Calzada’s acquaintances who speculates not that police and Jail officials hurt Ed, but that they didn’t look at him hard enough.
“Since it was a homeless person, someone police knew was an alcoholic, he did not get the benefit of the doubt,” says Silverman. “On the other hand, people who have homes have the right to get drunk and go home afterwards.”
The problem for anyone in Calzada’s situation is that Charlottesville has a shortage of places where homeless people can stay for the night, especially if they are drunk. The Drop-In Center will lend a couch to someone who needs to sleep off a buzz, but the Center usually closes at night. If someone has alcohol on his breath, he can’t get a bed at the Salvation Army, so the police officers who picked Calzada up could not have taken him there. Even the City’s only de-tox center, the Mohr Center, also may not have been an option for Calzada that night: Although City officers often take street drunks to the Center, provided there is room, employees there say they do not admit clients who are falling down loaded or unconscious.
“People in that condition need to be taken to the emergency room, and nowhere else,” says one Mohr Center employee. “Unless the person is violent or out of control, there is no reason to take an inebriated person to jail.”
Calzada left many clues to his life in Charlottesville, but most of them are nearly invisible. In Virginia Germino’s back yard, beneath a patch of ivy, he carved his name in concrete on a stone wall he once mended. At Chuck Lewis’ house, he built a rock wall. On Park Street, he planted trees that grow tall and strung Christmas lights that still hang along one resident’s garage. Ironically, Calzada even helped build the newest wing of the UVA Hospital.
Out at Karen Payne’s home in Crozet, where she still lives, Calzada painted many of the walls, repaired the dining room floor, and put moulding along the sides of her basement steps. But he might have left his most important clue in an offhand comment he made the day she asked him to explain his tattoo.
She wondered then why a man would permanently affix his name to his own body. Perhaps it was an obscure Navy tradition, the emblem of a pact with a long-lost blood brother, a reminder of a place he had been. Or maybe it was done on a whim, devoid of meaning, inspired by some excess drink, a mystery even to its owner.
“Right when we first met I asked Ed why he got that tattoo,” says Payne. “He said, ‘In case they find me dead someday, they’ll know who I am.’”