Family, friends in shock
over man's death
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Family and friends of a popular gay San Francisco man are expressing shock after he died this week, several days after he was found unconscious on a Castro sidewalk.
James Cunningham, 55, is believed to have been walking his dog on Hartford Street late Tuesday night, May 28, when he sustained injury to his head, according to his sister Maureen Cunningham, who cited information from a hospital social worker. Someone eventually discovered him, and he was taken to San Francisco General Hospital, where a coma was induced. He died Monday morning, June 3.
What happened "came as such a shock to us," said Maureen Cunningham, 57, of San Jose.
Police and other officials had little information this week about what happened, and it's not clear whether Cunningham was assaulted or fell. The medical examiner's office confirmed he had died but wouldn't provide many details.
Citing information from a hospital social worker, Maureen Cunningham said her brother "was found sometime after midnight" at 174 Hartford Street. His dog, Jett, a black Labrador mix, was with him. The location isn't far from her brother's home in the 100 block of Caselli Avenue.
Maureen Cunningham said it's not clear "when the trauma happened." Someone apparently saw him and called for help. Paramedics from the fire department took him to the hospital, she said.
A fire department spokeswoman wasn't able to find any information about Cunningham based on the limited details the Bay Area Reporter was able to provide to her.
Cunningham didn't have any identification on him (friends said he often didn't carry a wallet when walking his dog), and it wasn't known who he was until Jett's microchip was scanned. The social worker notified police, who went to his home for further confirmation of his identity.
Hospital staff first told the family that Cunningham had been assaulted, but later said he could have been injured from a fall, Maureen Cunningham said. She said he developed an infection in the hospital that eventually killed him.
The family is expecting to hear from the medical examiner's office this week about the agency's conclusion on Cunningham's injuries and the cause of his death.
It's not clear if police were ever called to the scene.
"There isn't a police report we can look at," Maureen Cunningham said.
Officer Albie Esparza, a spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department, wasn't able to find any information about Cunningham Tuesday, June 4.
"A lot of times we have to wait for the medical examiner's office to complete their autopsy and find the cause of death before they notify police," Esparza said, and that may take a while.
Maureen Cunningham said her brother, a retired banker, got Jett about a year and a half ago and "did a lot of walking" with the dog. She and her family are keeping Jett.
"He had such a wonderful heart," she said. "... He was looking for what were the important things in life and he went out there to forge his way, to identify who he wanted to be and what he wanted to become."
"I believe he found what he was looking for," Maureen Cunningham said.
He enjoyed traveling and art, and he had "a lot of great friends in San Francisco, a great community," she said.
David Wheeler, 54, of San Francisco, said Cunningham was "a sweet, gentle man," and in interviews, many people were eager to talk about his kindness and diverse interests in everything from astrology to music.
In addition to his sister, Cunningham's survivors include his parents, another sister, four nephews, and three nieces. Memorial services were pending as of Tuesday.