YAKIMA — A man police said was one of Yakima’s more conspicuous panhandlers died from an apparent overdose on New Year’s Day in a car containing $83,000 worth of heroin.
Acting on a request for a welfare check Tuesday night, police and firefighters discovered the body of 56-year-old Douglas D. Budd in his car in the parking lot of the downtown Taco Bell on East Yakima Avenue.
A hypodermic needle was still in his arm, suggesting Budd died almost instantly from a drug overdose, police said. The shot was so potent, he spilled his strawberry shake all over himself.
In addition to the strawberry shake, police said Budd had $1,725 in cash as well as a half-pound of heroin — a street value of $83,000.
Capt. Rod Light, a spokesman for the Yakima Police Department, said Budd was already under investigation for drug dealing and split his time between dealing and panhandling at one of the city’s busiest intersections.
“He used to work the southwest corner of First (Street) and Nob Hill Boulevard,” Light said. “He was one of our regulars.”
Light said his experience is that while some panhandlers may be genuinely down on their luck or homeless, the ones who hold signs all day at busy intersections are usually not.
“Some of these guys are violent offenders and have long criminal records,” he said. “I think there’s this feeling or belief that these people trudge down to the bridge at night and sleep in the dirt. ... That’s not the case.”
According to court records, Budd had a lengthy criminal history that included 16 misdemeanor convictions for shoplifting as well felony convictions for burglary, drug possession and theft of a firearm.
Light said he wished the city had a tougher panhandling law than the existing one that was last updated by the City Council in 2010.
“There’s a bad faction out there,” he said. “A lot of them work together.”
Acting on complaints of aggressive panhandling that included claims that some panhandlers were only pretending to be homeless, the council in 2010 added parking lots to a list of places where panhandling is prohibited.
However, the council sidestepped calls for a more comprehensive time-and-place crackdown, such as prohibitions against panhandling too close to ATMs or street corners, saying the city had more important problems to worry about, such as gang violence.
City officials said then the council could probably adopt more stringent codes from other cities, such as Tacoma, but that the lack of specific anecdotes at a hearing on the subject could hurt the city’s ability to convince the courts that a widespread crackdown was justified. Panhandling has long been upheld by the courts as a protected form of free speech.
The Yakima County Coroner’s Office initially withheld Budd’s name Wednesday because next of kin had not been notified. It was released later due to problems tracking down the man’s family.
The official cause of death has not been determined, pending the results of a toxicology screen. A report is expected in four to six weeks.