Burned Man Found Dead Near I-80 After Brush Fire Extinguished

Authorities found no evidence of foul play in the roadside burning death of a homeless man Tuesday night but also came to no conclusions about the cause or circumstances of the fire.

A motorist passing beneath Interstate 80 on Central Avenue called 911 on a cell phone to report a brush fire beneath the freeway overpass about 8 p.m., Richmond fire Capt. Oscar Jones said. Firefighters arrived to find a small blaze in a fenced area between freeway entrance and exit ramps.

"There were two different calls," Jones said. "As we arrived, someone else called 911 and said there was a man on fire."

Firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze, which was about 10 or 15 feet in diameter, and found the badly burned body of a man on one edge of the burned area, Jones said. The body was charred beyond recognition and carried no identification.

The body had no obvious signs of injury other than burns, police Detective Jose Villalobos said. Fire investigators worked Wednesday to find the cause of the blaze.

The Contra Costa Coroner's Office identified the body from its fingerprints as a 54-year-old man. Authorities withheld his name Wednesday because they had not notified his family.

Homeless people frequently camp beneath the overpass. Firefighters found alcohol cans and bottles and clothing in the area, Jones said, but no other people. The gate on the fence was locked.

Firefighters found the burning body of a 47-year-old transient beneath the South Second Street overpass to Interstate 580 in February 2003. Police do not believe the deaths are related. Someone killed the victim in the 2003 case before igniting the body.

No witnesses stopped to talk to authorities Tuesday night, and detectives say they need help from the public to piece together what happened.

Police ask anyone with information about the incident or who passed through the area about 8 p.m. Tuesday night to call Villalobos at 510-620-6526.