Heart disorder caused death of homeless man found under Bennington bridge

A photo collage of Thierry Heuga was displayed during a memorial service for him at the Unitarian Universalist Meetinghouse in Bennington on Feb. 29.

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BENNINGTON — A local homeless man found dead under a bridge in February died of a heart condition due to lung disease, according to the chief medical examiner's office.

Passersby discovered the body of Thierry Heuga under the Holden Street bridge on the morning of Feb. 10, a day before his 58th birthday.

Heuga died of natural causes, specifically "cor pulmonale" due to emphysema, reads his death certificate released Tuesday by the Vermont health department. The mental illness schizophrenia was listed as a contributing condition.

There's no consensual definition for "cor pulmonale," according to information from the health department, but it can be defined as an alternation in the structure and function of the right ventricle of the heart due to a primary disorder of the respiratory system. Emphysema is a lung disease characterized by shortness of breath.

The Bennington Police Department also investigated Heuga's death and found "no suspicious circumstances," Acting Det. Sgt. Chris Lauzon said Wednesday. It appeared the death happened suddenly, he added.

Lauzon earlier said there was no evidence Heuga had a drug or alcohol problem.

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When asked how long Heuga had been living under the bridge, Lauzon said he couldn't be sure but that people had seen Heuga in the area a few days before his body was found.

Heuga's death intensified public discussion about the need to establish a temporary shelter for homeless people in Bennington during bitter cold periods.

In late February — about a couple of weeks before Vermont declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak — a committee tasked with developing and implementing a plan for a local warming shelter talked about short- and medium-term plans leading up to the shelter. Its proposals included putting up homeless people in motels, setting up a pilot program for a warming shelter and opening pop-up shelters.

On the last day of February, community members attended a memorial service for Heuga at the Unitarian Universalist Meetinghouse in Bennington. The gathering featured a one-act play on Heuga, which was written by a local high school student who came up with the idea for the service.

Contact Tiffany Tan at ttan@benningtonbanner.com, @tiffgtan on Twitter or 802-447-7567 ext. 122.


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