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Friends Mourn Homeless Storm Victim

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A day after rescue workers discovered the body of a homeless man in the storm-ravaged Ventura River, friends of the man mourned his death.

William Lee Shubert, 31, was pulled from the river Tuesday afternoon, the only known fatality in Ventura County of the vicious storm that swept through the area.

Wednesday, family members gathered at the wood-frame, one-story house in Camarillo where Jacque and Lois Shubert raised William and his six brothers and sisters, friends of the family said. A man who answered the door at the house said the family had no comment.

“The family is very private,” said Lois Denardo, a longtime neighbor.

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Shubert, described as slender with blond hair, blue eyes and just over six feet tall, was “a very nice man,” Denardo said. “His death is a tragedy for all of us.”

Known as Willie as a child, Shubert was considerate to his neighbors, occasionally helping Denardo care for her elderly mother, Denardo said.

After graduating from Adolfo Camarillo High School, Shubert worked for a time in Los Angeles, helping with lighting on sets in the television and movie industries, Denardo said.

When Shubert moved away from home to live in the river bottom, “it was his choice and a heartbreak for everyone,” Denardo said, adding that Shubert “wasn’t well.” Jim Wingate, Ventura County deputy coroner, said Shubert had a history of mental illness.

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One member of the river bottom community where Shubert lived for the past two years said Shubert was a loner who had few belongings.

“He stayed to himself,” Rick Wells said. “He carried his sleeping bag with him and didn’t have much to say about anything.”

Shubert’s taciturn nature was evident early on, said Martin Manzer, who graduated from Adolfo Camarillo High School with Shubert in 1981 and who now teaches English there.

“He was reserved, but he always had a smile,” Manzer said. “You wouldn’t suspect anything bad about him.”

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After performing an autopsy Wednesday, Wingate said it was not clear whether the cause of death was drowning. Authorities have ruled out suicide as a cause of death, Wingate said.

“We’re not even considering that,” he said. “He does have a psychiatric history, but we don’t consider him suicidal.”

During his years on the streets, Shubert apparently sought little help from social service agencies that care for the homeless.

Evelyn Burge, a county nurse who makes frequent trips to homeless shelters and to the river bottom, said she had not treated him.

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And there is no record of Shubert at Project Understanding, a Ventura agency that provides food and services for the homeless, Executive Director Rick Pearson said.

Shubert is the second homeless person to die in the flooded Ventura River in recent years.

Three years ago, 32-year-old Jim Butler was swept to his death in the water and mud that surged down the river.

“Of course we don’t know if (Shubert) and the man who was killed three years ago are the only ones who died in the floods,” Pearson said. “It’s a great tragedy that anyone should lose their life like this.”

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