A school counselor suffering an apparent heart attack died in a Philadelphia emergency room after waiting nearly 80 minutes for help _ and a trio of homeless drug addicts nearby stole his watch instead of seeking aid, police said.
Joaquin Rivera, 63, died before seeing a triage nurse at Atria Health's Frankford Campus over the weekend, police said.
Rivera, a musician and activist in the city's Latino community, had spent more than 30 years working as a bilingual counselor at an inner-city high school.
"We're all destroyed. A guy like that, for him to leave us the way that he did _ and with what happened to him _ everybody's destroyed," said Jesse Bermudez, a friend and fellow musician.
Rivera's cruel end was captured on security videotape, much like the June 2008 death of Esmin Green, who died on a hospital floor as staffers at Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn ignored her. Green's family recently settled a lawsuit against the city for $2 million.
Rivera had walked to the Northeast Philadelphia hospital late Saturday from his home a few blocks away after pain started shooting down his right side. He registered at 10:45 p.m. and took a seat, chatting for about 20 minutes with two men and a woman nearby.
Based on witness accounts, police believe Rivera passed out about an hour later. Security video then shows one of the men steal his watch and briefly pass it to the other.
"There's no resistance from Mr. Rivera at all, which is why we believe he's probably dead. There's no stirring from him," said Capt. Jack McGinnis, a city detective.
The second suspect is then seen by doctors, and a security guard arrives to ask his sleeping companions to leave. A witness first reports that Rivera may be dead.
At 12:04 a.m., he is pronounced dead.
"You would hope he would have died with dignity," McGinnis said.
Aria Health offered condolences to the family Tuesday but otherwise declined comment, citing patient confidentiality and the pending criminal case.
McGinnis describes the three suspects as homeless drug addicts. Police arrested one of them, 44-year-old Richard Alten, at the hospital and are searching for the others.
Detectives have seen the video footage, but Aria Health had not yet produced a copy for them, McGinnis said. Police hope to publicize it to find the missing pair.
Drug addicts, he said, will steal from family _ or the dead.
"It seems despicable, but they would do it," McGinnis said. "(The death) seemed like a perfect opportunity."
Alten remains in custody, and the public defender's office representing him declined comment.
A preliminary ruling suggests Rivera died of hypertension. He is survived by his wife and three children.
Rivera also leaves behind a rich musical legacy that includes local radio and TV appearances in which he shared the music he learned as a boy in the mountains of Cayey, Puerto Rico. He also inspired countless Olney High School students to attend college, Bermudez said.
Bermudez last saw his friend Saturday afternoon, when they played together at Centro Musical, a neighborhood music store that serves as a gathering place for Latino musicians.
"Without him, the traditional folk music of Puerto Rico wouldn't be alive here in Philadelphia," Bermudez said.