Rodney Heckathorn, 61, died June 27, during Oregon’s first summer heatwave. Toward the end of his life he spent time living near Washington-Jefferson Park with his friends. He’s remembered for his love of rock music and hot rods.
Although Heckathorn’s name was not included in the Oregon Medical Examiner’s list of deaths during the June heatwave, he died while homeless on June 27, the day after Eugene’s temperatures surpassed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. His niece, Stephanie Lachapelle, says he had likely fallen asleep in his sleeping bag the night before on June 26 when the day’s high was 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Born in Florence, Heckathorn was the youngest of six, with two brothers and three sisters. His mother was a housekeeper, Lachapelle says. The family moved to Christmas Valley, then to Eugene.
Heckathorn worked in concrete, and lived in Bend and Montana, before returning to Eugene.
Lachapelle says her uncle loved rock music and hot rods. They went to concerts together, she says, seeing bands such as Blue Oyster Cult, ZZ Top and Joan Jett. His favorite band was AC/DC, she adds. “He loved to rock out to them.”
Heckathorn also loved to fish, boat and hunt, Lachapelle says.
Lachapelle’s cousin, Kevin Vanwinkle, remembers back in 2007, when he was a teenager, that he, his dad and Heckathorn would go out into the woods and shoot guns together.
Lachapelle says Heckathorn married once but didn’t have children, though he raised her and her sister. Vanwinkle says the extended family had fallen apart when his parents got divorced and that Lachapelle was Heckathorn’s closest family member.
Both Vanwinkle and Lachapelle say they were hoping to get Heckathorn off the street soon. Vanwinkle says he wanted to bring him up to Alaska, where he now lives, but Heckathorn seemed happy being homeless and doing his own thing.
Everyone assumed he was a drunk, Lachapelle says, but Heckathorn rarely drank or used drugs. “Everyone gave up on my uncle, and he couldn’t get out from being depressed,” she says.
Lachapelle says she’s not sure what the reasons that led to Heckathorn becoming homeless were, and that he had gotten to the point where he didn’t want to leave the streets. But he had a lot of friends there, she adds, including his best friend, Tyson Olsen, who identified Heckathorn for first responders.
“He picked his family to be out there in the streets,” she says.
Eugene Weekly seeks to run an obituary for every person who dies homeless in Lane County in 2021. This is the 11th we’ve published so far. If you know of someone who has died here while homeless this year, please let us know at Editor@EugeneWeekly.com.