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Life and death above the Kozy

by Chris Olwell

Nobody has smoked in the Kozy since last year, but the SmokeEater above the bar still serves a useful purpose: it’s the bar’s memory.

To the front of the machine are scotch-taped a plastic flower, a haggard old cigarette, several tattered and worn American flags, and about half-a-dozen obituary clippings and funeral prayer cards—all memories of residents of the Kozy apartments who’ve died there.

Eric Ringsred took over the Kozy in April of 2006, and within three months three of his tenants had died of consumption or health problems related to chronic alcoholism. By the end of 2006, the total was six.

A laborer with advanced cirrhosis of the liver died of hepatitis at 34. A vet passed out drunk “with his head flexed against the bed�? and suffocated.

One death in particular sticks with Ringsred. The death of Jeffrey Schug is an example just how hard it can be, for many reasons, to get help to a population for whom addiction is the norm and mental illness is common, and whose very survival depends sometimes on public assistance.

Schug was a 36-year-old musician in a local band with a small following. He had lived at the Kozy for less than a week when died. The autopsy determined the probable cause of death to be acute hypernatremic dehydration and kidney failure.

He’d stopped taking his medications for his mental illness and was running naked through the halls of the apartment, “trashing the place,�? according to Ringsred.

“His friend called the police,�? Ringsred said. “We called social services. We called the police. Nothing was ever done.�?

The police did show up that day, but there wasn’t much they could do.

According to the incident report: Police responded to reports of a “drunk/methhead naked male running the halls�? at 1:29 p.m. on Nov. 5, 2006. When officers arrived Schug was in his apartment and didn’t want to talk with them or his friend, a transient who’d been staying at the CHUM shelter.

The report said Schug “did not look injured and did not look like he was going to harm himself or others.�? It is not clear if officers learned this firsthand or in talking with Schug’s friend.

“We have tenants in here that need help,�? said Leonard Holland, assistant manager at the Kozy but since they refuse help….�?

Schug’s obituary in the Duluth News Tribune was brief: “Jeffrey Peter ‘Jeff’ Schug, 36, of Duluth died Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006 in his residence.

“PRIVATE FAMILY SERVICE: will be held at a later date. Services entrusted to the Cremation Society of America, 218-624-5200.�?

“This is the problem: there’s a lot of people here who have nobody. They don’t have families…particularly people that are mentally ill,�? Ringsred said. “Anyway, there are a lot of people that have nobody.�?