Iconic Kona homeless man dies

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KAILUA-KONA — A well-known homeless man who’s distinct, bearded look was famous to those who frequented downtown Kailua-Kona died Thursday, those who knew him said.

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KAILUA-KONA — A well-known homeless man who’s distinct, bearded look was famous to those who frequented downtown Kailua-Kona died Thursday, those who knew him said.

Freddie, as the man was known, was described as good-hearted, kind and generous by a group of his acquaintances who are raising money to cremate his remains so they can spread his ashes.

They’re also trying to find any family members for Freddie, who was a fixture on Alii Drive for years.

“He just had that energy about him, where people gravitated toward him,” said Lily Barr, a waitress at the Lava Java restaurant downtown who knew Freddie for two years. “When he smiled he gave you this warm sparkle with his blue eyes.”

Barr and her friend Rosie Maldonado set up an online GoFundMe page after learning of Freddie’s death to help pay for arrangements. It surpassed its $1,500 goal and raised $2,488 by the time it was deactivated hours after being set up.

Dozens of comments on the page offered condolences, personal memories and businesses offered to charter boats and spread Freddie’s ashes for free.

“I came over to Kona when I was 19 or 20 and I always had beer in the back of my truck and I always gave him couple beers,” wrote Mark Axelson, who donated $100 to the cause. “He always was consistently smiling and genuine.”

But before any final arrangements can be made, Freddie’s true identification must be established and relatives, if any are out there, must be located.

Maldonado is trying to chase down leads. She’s piecing together as much information as she can, she said, and has been in contact with Freddie’s case worker and a nurse who worked with him. She has possible last names, as does West Hawaii Today, but those are being withheld pending a final confirmation.

“I just want him to have what he deserves,” said Maldonado, who also worked at Lava Java and knew Freddie for about three years.

She said she’s troubled by the image of Freddie’s final days, spent lying on the ground near Alii Drive or in the hospital, battling pneumonia.

“I don’t think he deserved that,” she said.

Judy Donovan, spokeswoman for Kona Community Hospital, couldn’t comment on anything involving any of their patients.

But Barr said she picked up Freddie from Kona Community Hospital around June 15 as he was being discharged after being admitted for being sick with an injured shoulder. Maldonado declined to share the nurse or case worker with whom she’s in contact out of concern for privacy but both she and Barr said Freddie died of pneumonia.

What part an alleged attack on Freddie days prior to his death played isn’t known. Maldonado said the nurse told her the trauma did affect the man’s downward health spiral.

The Hawaii Police Department said Friday they didn’t receive any report of the alleged assault and didn’t have any information.

But people who knew the man said it did happen, including Steve England, who is also homeless and knew Freddie well.

“I guess that makes me the senior uncle now,” said the wheelchair-bound man who sat on Alii Drive waving to passing motorists Friday, but with tears in his eyes.

“He was unusual but everyone loved him,” he added. “Why, why, why would anyone do this to him? We’re gonna find out who did this. He never hurt nobody.”

That sentiment was shared by Michael, who didn’t want to give his last name, but sells plumeria lei along the ocean.

“He’s been around forever,” he said. “Why would anyone do that to an 88-year-old man? He was a good guy with a good sense of humor and didn’t bother anyone.”

“There’s lots of crazy people on ice around here,” he added. “It makes them crazy.”

Icon is how online and interview comments described Freddie. Some said he was — with his long, flowing white beard — Kona’s Moses. Others said he was the original homeless man, on the streets well before the unsheltered population grew.

Barr and Maldonado described instances of Lava Java guests giving Freddie food from their orders, though Freddie didn’t solicit the Good Samaritan deeds.

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Dawn West works in a shop in the Kona Inn Shopping Center and also remembered Freddie as a Kona fixture around the downtown business bustle.

“He always winked at me when he passed by,” she said. “It’s heart-wrenching that this happened to him.”

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