Winter storm claims 1 life

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A Sumter homeless man was found dead in an abandoned home Thursday afternoon, and the extreme winter weather has been ruled as the cause of death.

According to Sumter County Coroner Harvin Bullock, Jason Fleming, whose age was unknown as of Friday afternoon, died from hypothermia in the abandoned home near Brent Street in South Sumter. He was found by a neighbor at 3:11 p.m. before the Sumter Police Department and Emergency Medical Services were called in to investigate.

Bullock stated that Fleming was not heavily dressed around the time he died.

"When it's freezing out there and you've got no heat, you can bundle up as much as you want to, but chances are you are not going to generate enough heat to overcome the cold," Bullock said.

Bullock spoke with Fleming's family, who stated that they weren't surprised to learn that he was found dead in an abandoned building. Fleming's son was unable to provide his date of birth to Bullock.

The exact reason for Fleming occupying the house is unknown, although it is strongly possible he was there to seek shelter from the winter storm. According to the Rev. Walter Robertson of the Samaritan House in Sumter, many homeless people, whom he refers to as "chronic homeless," often prefer to seek shelter in abandoned buildings rather than turn to shelters.

"It's the chronic homeless that I worry about the most because they're just not going to come to the shelter, which makes it tough," Robertson said. "Some of them just don't want to go into a shelter or maybe they had a bad experience at a shelter, or they feel more comfortable going out on their own."

Robertson said that most homeless carry their clothing around in a plastic bag or have extra clothing stashed somewhere.

"I don't see the homeless having any problems getting clothing," Robertson said. "A lot of churches pass out coats, and several groups come through the shelter and bring coats with them."

Fleming's death was the only one related to the extremely low temperatures that Bullock reported.

Reach Tyler Simpson at (803) 774-1295.