LAS VEGAS (AP) - When Karin Solomonson saw the 702 area code on
her telephone, the North Carolina resident assumed it was her beloved Aunt BeBe calling from the streets of Las Vegas.
Instead, it was the Clark County coroner's office, calling to notify Solomonson about the death of her 65-year-old aunt, Cora Angie Law.
Law died June 16 after authorities say she was struck by a hit-and-run driver while crossing a busy boulevard several blocks east of the Las Vegas Strip.
"I was totally in shock," Solomonson said from her home near Charlotte. "I just went, 'Wait a minute."'
When she died, Law had $2.07, a Christmas card from Solomonson with Solomonson's phone number, and a single silver ring, which Solomonson believes was the ring she gave her aunt as a gift. The
ring had the word "hope" inscribed on it.
"She told me, 'I got everything I need. As long as I've got hope, I'm good,"' Solomonson said.
Solomonson said she was troubled by impersonal, brief news items
about her aunt, who she hoped would be remembered as more than just another of the two dozen homeless people to die this year in and
around Las Vegas.
So Solomonson circulated an e-mail titled "Aunt BeBe's Obituary."
"Those people you may choose to avoid or ignore or complain about or kill and keep on driving? Their stories are real," she wrote. "They have stories of love ... stories of family."
Law's story began in Rural Hall, a town near Winston-Salem, N.C., where she was raised to as a "genteel Southern belle," Solomonson said.
Law was a teenage mother of two children, became a nurse like her mother, and married a doctor before being diagnosed in her late 20s with schizophrenia, a brain disorder with symptoms including distorted perceptions of reality, hallucinations and paranoid delusions.
Her family tried to help, but Law resisted treatment, suspecting those who tried to medicate her of attempting to kill her. Eventually, she just took off.
Law lived in Florida, Connecticut and California. Back home, her children grew, and she became a grandmother and great-grandmother.
"It would eat me up, that she would die someday and we would have no way of knowing and nobody would know that we wanted to know," said Dottye Currin, Law's younger sister. "That she would
just end up God knows where. It hurt my heart to think about that."
Eventually, Law met a Vietnam veteran who became her companion
and caregiver. The pair moved to Las Vegas 12 or 13 years ago and
were homeless together.
Law's family heard from her through phone calls and letters. Solomonson and Currin last saw Law during a 2006 trip to Las Vegas.
"She was gorgeous," Currin said. "Her eyes just sparkled. She was just my big sister."
Law showed the women where she slept under a bridge and under a
tree in a park.
"She said she didn't want to take up a bed at the shelter, because there were other people who needed them more than she did," Solomonson said.
But Law was clearly ill, at times becoming agitated and talking to herself. She was distrustful of nearly anyone who tried to help her.
Solomonson and Currin said they sent money so Law could sometimes rent a motel room, and tried to persuade her to move to North Carolina where they could care for her.
Recently, the women said they had a hard time reaching Law, and
she did not receive the money orders they sent.
The driver who hit Law and drove away was "just another in a long line" of people who hurt the woman over the years, Solomonson said, noting that Law was beaten and robbed countless times during her years of homelessness.
Police said they were still looking for the large gray or burgundy sport utility vehicle with chrome rims and large tires that hit Law, who investigators think was in a crosswalk.
Currin called it "one last assault" on her sister, whose body was brought home for cremation, burial and a memorial service.
Currin said she hoped sharing Law's story would help change the way homeless people are viewed.
"The next time you see a homeless person," she said, "I'd like for you to remember me and know that person probably has a family member somewhere who loves them."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)