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Sorrow from sudden death

Joseph Harris’ family hopes the community can remember him for his kind heart, love of the outdoors and ability to overcome drug addiction – not for his strange and sudden death Thursday.

Harris, 26, received a serious cut to a bicep when he reportedly punched through a front-door window at the National Hotel in Nevada City late Wednesday. Police, responding to a vandalism call, followed a trail of blood to Pine Street, where Harris was discovered.

Harris was then taken by ambulance to the helicopter landing pad near the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility and died at 12:50 a.m. before he could be airlifted to a Roseville hospital, said Nevada County Coroner Cathy Valceschini. Valceschini said the exact cause of death is still uncertain and they are awaiting the toxicology report from the pathologist, which would determine whether drugs or alcohol were a factor.



“I just don’t understand why he would do something like that,” said Liberty Harris, his older sister and a Grass Valley resident. “He’s not violent at all.”

Although Joseph Harris had been in trouble with the law before and had grappled with drugs such as methamphetamine, family members said he had cleaned up and was holding down a job as a dishwasher at a Nevada City restaurant, The Country Rose.




“He was one of the best workers I have ever known,” said Jeremy Lang, Liberty Harris’ husband and a chef at The Country Rose. Lang described Harris as “honest, fun-loving and just whole-hearted.”

Harris lived in western Nevada County off and on since 1998, his sister said. Recently, he had returned from Yreka after his father’s death in April and was living with his older sister, brother-in-law, and their two sons.

He pledged at the time to quit using illegal drugs and followed through on the vow, Liberty Harris said.

“He’s been clean off of drugs about nine months now. That was his proudest accomplishment,” she said. “It was a promise to his father that he would never do drugs again.”

She described him as an avid fisherman who was always comfortable outdoors.

“He loved to go fishing and camping,” she said. “He would sleep outside underneath the stars more often than he would sleep in the house.”

Lang said Harris used to enjoy taking Lang’s son, Brandon, fishing and had a “tremendous love for his family.”

Laura Lee, fiancée of Joseph Harris’ brother, said the death left his family wondering how he could have died in such a public setting.

“I don’t know how someone could just ignore someone bleeding to death down the street. Why didn’t anybody help him?” she said.

“He was a wonderful person. He wasn’t a lunatic.”

Britt Retherford of The Union contributed to this story.


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