Memorial: 'His name was James'

YELM – Many people in Yelm had a soft spot in their hearts for James Warner, 48, a homeless man who often panhandled in front of Safeway on Yelm Avenue, Yelm Police Sgt. Rob Carlson said.

After Warner was found dead Aug. 8, face down in a field on 106th Avenue between the Yelm Auto Mall and Christensen Home Furnishings, a makeshift memorial went up at the Safeway, Carlson said.

The memorial included an upside-down 5-gallon white bucket similar to the one Warner used to sit on, balloons and a sign reading, “His name was James.”

Police initially thought Warner’s death was “a little suspicious,” Carlson said. It appeared that Warner had fallen and struck his face on a concrete box on the ground, court papers state. He had been dead for at least a day when he was found.

Yelm police now say Warner’s death was a homicide. On Tuesday, Yelm police arrested another homeless man on suspicion of first-degree manslaughter in connection with Warner’s death. Adam Moody Wilkins, 31, was being held Wednesday at the Thurston County Jail, with bail set at $250,000, after a Thurston County Superior Court judge found probable cause to support the manslaughter charge.

Thurston County Coroner Gary Warnock said Wednesday that Warner’s death has been ruled a homicide because of trauma and “external bodily injury.” The exact cause of Warner’s death won’t be known until autopsy and toxicology reports are completed, Warnock said.

According to court papers:

During the police investigation, Yelm detectives received information alleging that Warner was beaten to death by Wilkins. The two were known to camp out together, and police received tips that Wilkins had assaulted Warner previously while both were drinking.

Wilkins’ stepfather told a Yelm detective that his son told him about an assault and “possible killing of a person, but failed to identify who that person was.”

When detectives found Wilkins in Chehalis, he admitted to assaulting Warner.

“Wilkins stated that he and Warner got into a heated argument while they were drinking approximately two weeks ago ...” court papers state. “Warner became verbally abusive towards him and he just snapped like he does when he is drinking alcohol. Wilkins describes how he kicked the victim on the side of the head, but couldn’t remember what other force he used.”

Wilkins said the morning after the attack, Warner “was throwing up, had blood coming out of his mouth and he became worried for him. Wilkins said he offered to take Warner to the hospital, but he refused, saying he was going to sober up for a few days. Wilkins said he left. Wilkins said he returned to the campsite and found Warner face down and dead. Wilkins said he freaked out and left the area.”

Carlson said most people in Yelm knew Warner – especially police officers who would check on him at night or during the cold months to make sure he was OK. Carlson said Warner always was cordial to police.

“He was a part of the community,” Carlson said.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465