M.E.’s finding: L.E.S. Jewels died of head injuries

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON  |  The city’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner has completed its investigation into the death of Joel Pakela, a.k.a. L.E.S. Jewels — and, despite Jewels’s well-known abuse of alcohol and drugs, neither was the cause of his death.

A charismatic and exhibitionistic, but sometimes violent, homeless punk who hung around Tompkins Square Park and Avenue A, Jewels, 43, died Sept. 14 at Beth Israel Medical Center. Police had found him the previous night, reportedly “smelling of alcohol,” on the sidewalk on Avenue A across from the park.

According to Julie Bolcer, an M.E. spokesperson, the finding of the autopsy and toxicology investigation was that Pakela’s cause of death was “blunt injuries of head.” However, she said, “The manner of death is undetermined.”

Asked for more details — such as how many and what kind of head injuries Pakela had, and whether he got them from being assaulted or, say, falling down on the sidewalk — Bolcer said she would check. However, she subsequently called back to say she had no further information. Asked if alcohol or drugs contributed in any way to his death, Bolcer simply repeated the M.E.’s conclusion, that the cause of death was “blunt injuries of head.”

A vintage black-and-white portrait of L.E.S. Jewels by the late Bob Arihood, who extensively chronicled the homeless punk’s antics on his Neither More Nor Less blog.   Photo by Bob Arihood

A vintage black-and-white portrait of L.E.S. Jewels by the late Bob Arihood, who extensively chronicled the homeless punk’s antics on his Neither More Nor Less blog.  Photo by Bob Arihood

In September, in an interview in The Villager with reporter Gerard Flynn, Amy Sanchez, Jewels’s former wife, said she believed someone had inflicted a fatal head injury on Jewels.

“I feel he had a concussion from being beaten or kicked…,” Sanchez, a former School of Visual Arts student, said then. “There are sightings of him being hit and beaten — just too coincidental that it was a natural death.”

Sanchez said Jewels told her that he had been kicked in the head by a fellow “crusty” punk and left bloodied on the Wednesday before he died. Around 6:30 a.m. the next morning, an ambulance was called to Andrews House on the Bowery, a transitional supportive-housing facility for the homeless, she said. Jewels had been renting a room there for more than three years for a small weekly fee. Staff at the former flophouse wouldn’t let him go to his room because he was in such bad shape, with blood and bruising, according to Sanchez.

“They cleaned him up, and he left against medical advice. He often waived medical advice,” she said. “He didn’t know he had a concussion.” But Sanchez said she saw him with symptoms pointing to a concussion. She reported this to the police, she said, adding that the assailant bragged to her face about the attack.

Because Jewels often drank himself into a stupor, several friends thought nothing of it when they saw him passed out on the sidewalk the night before he died.

In September, Sanchez said that after the medical examiner’s findings were released, Jewels would be cremated, with a ceremony to follow.

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