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'One person is too many': Tulsa shoe repairman found dead under east Tulsa overpass after days of frigid weather

'One person is too many': Tulsa shoe repairman found dead under east Tulsa overpass after days of frigid weather

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Andy Nelson spent many days as a father trying to instill in his children a heart and compassion for those experiencing homelessness.

Three days after his body was found under an east Tulsa overpass, his adult daughter wondered what more could have been done.

“It wasn’t like he didn’t have family who cared,” Melisa Loeza said through tears Tuesday. “It ain’t like nobody tried to help him. We tried over and over.”

Nelson, a 63-year-old shoe repairman, was found about 1:30 p.m. Saturday under the Broken Arrow Expressway near 41st Street and Mingo Road.

His death is the second of a homeless person that the city saw during the past two weeks of frigid temperatures. Although the Medical Examiner’s Office has yet to determine an exact cause of death for either person, Loeza believes her father’s death was due to cold exposure.

Friday’s low reached 1 degree, according to National Weather Service of Tulsa measurements, and Saturday’s low was 20.

Even before the deadly weather moved in, Loeza urged her father to seek shelter.

“I told him the weather was getting bad,” she remembered. “I said, 'I don’t want you out; it’s going to get cold.’”

She offered her home and even her travel trailer if he didn’t want to stay with her, she said, but he soon ended the phone call to catch a bus.

After several of her calls went straight to voicemail on the anniversary of her younger brother’s death, where her father’s spiral began, she knew something wasn’t right.

She spent the next several days wandering in the ice, trying to find him.

Nelson’s boss, who grew concerned after not hearing from him for a couple of days, went to a place he knew he frequented and found his body in a sleeping bag.

It was 1991 when Nelson’s only son, Andy Nelson Jr., was hit and killed by a car while crossing a road. The boy was 10, and Nelson was never the same, Loeza said.

“He had his own place until my brother passed away,” Loeza said. “And then he just started popping in and out. He would stay in motels. … He would just slip away. He would be around for a couple days, and then we wouldn’t find him.”

Asked once upon his return where he had gone, his simple reply was, “Ah, I was just thinking,” Loeza remembers.

A self-proclaimed loner, Nelson liked to be alone, Loeza said. Born the youngest of 13 to a family in Arizona, he basically grew up without parents, she said. His mother died during his birth, and his father was 71 at the time and soon unable to care for him.

He herded some family sheep before moving to Tulsa in his later teen years and starting work at several shoe repair shops across the city.

It was his wish to be buried back in Arizona near his mother, Loeza said, and she’s now raising funds to do just that.

Although he suffered increasing depression, anxiety and schizophrenia, Nelson was kind and generous, Loeza said; always willing to help out a fellow man.

Since his death, she’s heard from former employers and their families offering their thanks for all his years of hard work.

And she remembers several times in her youth when her father would scoop up her and her siblings along with food, hats or gloves and travel downtown to minister to the homeless population.

“’You treat these people like they’re a celebrity because they have a story,’” she remembers him saying. “’They’re just like you and me.’”

“When his mental capacity started going, that’s what he reverted to,” she said. “He connected with them.”

Despite his many issues, Nelson struggled to get help. He didn’t want to be a burden to anyone, Loeza said, and he was pridefully stubborn.

In the days following his death, Loeza said her primary focus is finding the money to bury him. But afterward, it will be working on policy.

“When temperatures get so low, we shouldn’t give (people) that right,” she said of individuals choosing to go without shelter. “What gives them that frame of mind to make them think that they’re capable of surviving those temperatures?

“If we’re not keeping our dogs out there, … how are we allowing people to stay out there? How is that legal?

“One person is too many. Two is too many. These two individuals are not going to die in vain.”

Featured video: Mayor updates Tulsans on homeless outreach during dangerous winter weather

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said 250 people from encampments had found shelter through the efforts.

Photos: Tulsa's winter weather from above


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Staff Writer

I write because I care about people, policing and peace, and I believe the most informed people make the best decisions. I joined the Tulsa World in 2019 and currently cover breaking news. Phone: 918-581-8455

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