Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Tree That Fell In The Forest...And No One Knew!

I was listening to the radio the other day (KNX - Los Angeles) and was shocked to hear this story about a guy named Vincenzo 'Vinnie' Ricardo from Hampton Bay, NY. Hampton Bays is a small hamlet of 12,200 people on the eastern end of Long Island, a fairly wealthy "well to do" community.

Vinnie was the proverbial tree that fell in the forest...and no one knew.

From what police in Hampton Bays, N.Y., can determine, the 70-year-old was sitting alone watching TV in his two-story home when he died.

That was more than a year ago, and when workers were summoned to his house last week after a report that freezing temperatures had caused the home's pipes to burst, they found Vinnies's mummified body still sitting on the couch, the TV still on.

A neighbor of Ricardo's, Deanna Devon, was shocked that no one discovered him sooner. "He was blind and he used to wander into the street. I used to worry he would get hit. Vinnie had people who came to help take care of him, so I don't understand this." Vinnie was often seen walking in the streets with his cane and had been stricken blind in his 50's and suffered from diabetes.

He apparently died of natural causes, according to Dr. Stuart Dawson, Suffolk County deputy chief medical examiner. Due to the dry air in his house, Ricardo's body was well-preserved, leaving his features and hair intact. "You could see his face. He still had hair on his head," morgue assistant Jeff Bacchus told Newsday. "I've been on the job 35 years, and I've never seen anyone dead that long."

"Vinnie had people who came to help take care of him, so I don't understand this," Devon said.

According to news reports, Vinnie was widowed years ago and had lived alone since then. The house was set in the woods far back from the road, according to neighbors, which made it difficult to observe Ricardo's actions.

"He hasn't been heard from in over a year. That's the part that baffles me," Dawson said. "Nobody sounded the alarm. We heard he had family somewhere nearby, but he was estranged from them," Devon added.

Neighbor April Cowden told the paper that she used to help Ricardo by reading his mail to him, paying his bills and buying his groceries. But in the summer of 2005, he began to demand more of her time, and when she couldn't comply, they had a falling out. "I needed to go to work one day and he wanted me to stay."

About a month later, Cowden said, she saw an ambulance at his house. Later, when she saw the mail begin to pile up, Cowden thought he was in the hospital.

Authorities are still at a loss as to how the electricity remained on in Ricardo's home all this time. "Something just seems really strange about all this. There are so many little things that don't make sense," Devon said.

This story blows my mind. Are we that selfish and self-centered that we can't take the time to pick up the phone and call somebody just to find out how they are doing? How about just a quick knock-on-the-door to say "Hi" when you're out walking you dogs? Many people, especially older people, are just "dying" to know that somebody cares. And is it that hard for us to get our heads out of the sand and be that somebody. Hey, I'm guilty of it too but this story has kind of given me a push.

There is an old saying that goes, "An eye for an eye..." Maybe if we get off our butts and care more for our fellow human beings, this world would be a better place. I was surprised that people were shocked that Vinnie died and just sat there for a year. It wouldn't have taken much to just stop by and check on him. Where I grew up outside of Albany, New York, people actually do that. It's an amazing little town.

So the bottom line is this. Take a moment of of you busy life to say "Hi" to someone today. And then say "Hi" to somebody else tomorrow. Then maybe we won't be the one quoted in the newspaper saying, "I didn't really know him very well, but apparently nobody did."