Funeral home offers to hold service for homeless man killed in Warner Robins

bpurser@macon.comMarch 19, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- A funeral home has offered to hold a memorial service for a 45-year-old homeless man who was struck by a pickup truck and killed Sunday night.

The death of Alvin Comer Whitson Martin Jr. and his possible pauper’s burial stuck a chord in the community.

Funeral Director Michael McNeal said his family-owned McCullough Funeral Home received numerous calls about a memorial service for Martin.

Although the funeral home had not been contacted officially yet by the county, McNeal said he would like to bury Martin with respect and give members of the community an opportunity to remember him.

“There are just so many in the community that were willing to help this man,” McNeal said.

Two pastors already have called offering to conduct the service, he said.

Houston County Coroner Danny Galpin gave the offer his blessing. Two dozen people also called Galpin wanting to know when a service would be held for Martin.

Galpin said authorities will likely not release the body to the funeral home until Monday.

“We want to make sure we’ve exhausted every effort to find the next of kin,” Galpin said.

If authorities are able to find family members, then the funeral home would carry out the family’s wishes, McNeal said.

Authorities have been trying to locate Martin’s next of kin but so far have come up empty-handed. Leads include a possible son in Florida and an obituary that lists a man with the same name as a surviving son of a woman who died in 2006 in Moultrie.

Prior to the funeral home coming forward, Galpin had to tell callers there probably would not be a service if a relative could not be located and no one stepped forward. Pauper burials don’t usually include any type of service, he said.

A pauper burial is when a funeral home that agrees to take the body is paid $700 by the county for a burial, he explained. The body is generally taken from the morgue at Houston Medical Center to a cemetery in a shipping crate and buried.

That bothered 54-year-old Gail Simpson and others in the community who had befriended Martin. He was known as “Whit” or “Will” by those met him around town. Some of his haunts along Watson Boulevard included Taco Bell, Hobby Lobby and Cracker Barrel.

Simpson said she was thrilled to learn Martin will have a memorial service, and she plans to attend.

“That will give him a lot more dignity than he had in life,” said Simpson, a former chemist, “that somebody cared for him.”

Simpson stopped and talked with Martin for the last couple of years when she would see him out and about. She gave him some money from time to time -- once enough to cover the rental of a hotel room for a night.

“He was a sweet man,” Simpson said. “He was very humble. I gave him $20 once, and he said, ‘You don’t realize you gave me this much money,’ and tried to give it back.”

Martin’s face was severely disfigured by cancer, Simpson said.

“You could see all the way to the bone ... to the skull,” she said. “Cancer had eaten his face away. But I always made a point to look him in the eye.”

When she saw him, Simpson said she would think about the Bible verse that talks about being careful to entertain strangers because you could be entertaining an angel and not realize it.

“He never seemed to be down about it,” Martin said. “He didn’t seem sad but cheerful. I talked to him like a friend.”

Martin told people he was from Tampa, Fla., and had a son in that state. Police found a marriage certificate. He reportedly was married twice. But he also told people he had served in Vietnam, but he was too young to have done that, Galpin said.

Martin was pedaling east on Watson Boulevard on Sunday night when he was struck by a pickup truck that was pulling out at the same time from a parking lot at the Watson Central Shopping Center at 2191 Watson Blvd., police said. No charges have been filed against the 19-year-old driver of the pickup truck.

Martin was pronounced dead at the scene.

The bicycle had been a gift from one of the many people in the community who helped him, Simpson said. He did not have the bicycle for very long before his death.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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