Before he was found face down in a puddle and dead late Wednesday night behind a downtown parking lot, friends say they urged Jim Syster to quit drinking.
As he smoked a handrolled cigarette outside the St. Vincent de Paul Society soup kitchen on Front Street, Joseph Virgil said Thursday that he had advised Syster, who was in the hospital for stomach problems, he should have stayed there.
“I told him, ‘you should have stayed in the hospital. You looked better,’” Virgil said.
Syster, 55, who was homeless, was found in a wooded area behind a parking lot on Front Street just after 10 p.m. Wednesday and was pronounced dead by paramedics who were summoned.
Chief of Detectives Capt. Brad Blackburn said they are awaiting a ruling from the Mahoning County coroner to determine if Syster’s death is a homicide.
Virgil, who also is homeless, said he had known Syster for a year and invited him to stay with the group of homeless people who stay behind the parking lots on Front Street after he was sleeping under a tarp that was used to keep a pile of lumber dry.
Virgil said he does not know why Syster was homeless.
Timothy Phillips, another friend of Syster’s, said he does not know where Syster is from, but they both used to reminisce a lot because both once were long-distance truck drivers who traveled across the country.
Phillips said Syster has a daughter, but Syster had not spoken to her in more than 20 years.
Read more of his story in Friday's Vindicator or on Vindy.com.