COLUMBIA — Investigators are awaiting a report from the Boone County Medical Examiner that they hope will explain what caused the death of a homeless man found in a truck Nov. 16.
Donald Weidinger, 53, was dead when his friend, Guy Jones, discovered him in the truck parked near 1100 Locust Lane. Jones said the two had been living in the truck for a few months. The truck didn't belong to either of them, Jones said.
Columbia police Detective Christopher Boyle, who is investigating Weidinger's death, said it's necessary to wait for the medical examiner's report before an exact cause of death can be established.
Jones, however, said that alcohol might have played a role in his friend's death.
Jones came back to the truck in the evening on Nov. 16 and found Weidinger lying back with his mouth open. He wasn't snoring, Jones said, which worried him, because Weidinger usually snored when he slept.
"I'm really worried within myself, but I'm hoping and praying that he's just sloppy drunk," Jones said, describing how he felt the night he found Weidinger dead.
Jones said that while he was sitting in the truck, two young men approached and told him they had been drinking alcohol with Weidinger.
"They told me they got Don tore up from the floor up," Jones said.
Jones said the two men told him they had challenged Weidinger to a drinking competition and that Weidinger might have consumed a fifth of whiskey.
Jones stayed for about an hour with Wiedinger, then went to a friend's apartment and called the police just before 10 p.m.
"It was a shock and a trauma," said Jones, who said he'd known Weidinger for about 10 years.
Boyle said it didn't appear that any foul play was involved.
It is not clear where Weidinger was from, though Jones said Weidinger told him he had moved to Columbia as a child from an Indian reservation in Oklahoma.
Weidinger had told both Jones and another friend, Scott Claybrook, that he fought in the first Gulf War.
Claybrook said Weidinger had served in the military and was deeply affected by it.
"He would talk about watching his friends die, losing his friends by his side, that in certain raids or battles that he felt responsible for the death of civilians," Claybrook said.
That was part of the reason Weidinger drank, Claybrook said.
"When he was drinking he wouldn't remember the pain, so that was sort of a crutch, an escape," he said.
Claybrook said Weidinger was a compassionate and giving man who cared a lot for "those on the streets."
Jones said Weidinger had invited him to live in his Section 8 apartment when Jones was without a home, until Weidinger had to leave his apartment earlier this year.