Shaffer: For homeless ne’er-do-well, Crazy Horse, a tragic, random end

March 10, 2013 

Anita Bridges, an infamous homeless Raleigh woman better known as as Crazy Horse, died last week after being struck by a car on New Bern Avenue.

— On the street, they called her Crazy Horse.

One drink turned her into a wild animal, and she never stopped at one.

Anita Bridges spent much of her life in jail. As soon as she got out, she got busy getting back in. Her rap sheet begins in 1976 with shoplifting. She graduated to robbery. Then assault. Then prostitution. Then all the sad hallmarks of a homeless alcoholic: intoxicated and disruptive, public urination, begging.

But she had a nice smile. She called you "honey" when she asked you for a dollar. She had a reputation for her sweet tooth, trading places in line at the soup kitchen to make sure she got the chocolate cake.

Call her a bum, a drunk or a shame, but she died alone on Tuesday, hit by a car in the middle of New Bern Avenue. She was walking down the middle lane just before midnight, and the driver couldn’t see her. The police report listed her as impaired.

I don’t know what brought Bridges to this end at age 53, whether life dealt her lousy cards or she sank into quicksand of her own making – one bad step at a time. Probably both.

But it’s worthwhile to make note of a human life gone horribly wrong, to acknowledge a vagrant the world will quickly forget and to hope that death brings peace to a woman who couldn’t find it anywhere else.

"That's Crazy Horse," said Alex Allen, taking a look at her mug shot from a porch in Southeast Raleigh. “Used to stay with a man called Sweet, but he’s been dead for a year. She was bad when she got drinking, and it didn’t take but one beer.

“Used to curse me every way she could. She’d walk by here, talking to herself. Yeah, she burned a lot of bridges.”

The records on file in the Wake County courthouse tell a story of a woman committed to self-destruction. She had scars on her left arm, left leg, left wrist, right arm, right leg and right thigh.

She used eight different aliases and listed two birthdays.

On several occasions, she went to prison as a safekeeper – the state’s term for defendants considered too dangerous to house in jail while awaiting trial.

Her final run-in with the law came in January, when police charged her with disorderly conduct outside the bus station on Wilmington Street downtown. Officers accused her of threatening to kill a man named Grady Washington III, using loud and profane language. But they dropped charges of communicating threats, conceding that Grady Washington would be impossible to locate as a witness.

Through all this, Bridges managed to keep a spark.

She wore hoop earrings and a nose piercing, and she kept her dreadlocks tied up in a scrunchie. At Shepherd’s Table soup kitchen, where she often ate lunch, volunteers would bring in bright scrunchies and save them for her.

Bridges always asked for an extra dessert, said Tamara Gregory, Shepherd’s Table director. The staff knew she struggled with alcohol and often lived on the street, and they worried when they didn’t see her every day.

On the night she died, she’d been out of jail only five days.

It’s hard to guess why she wandered down the middle of a busy street in the dark, whether she couldn’t sense the danger or hoped it would find her.

Somewhere, sometime, somebody must have loved her. But she never mentioned them if they did. And they haven’t stepped up to bury her yet.

Anita Lavern Bridges, aka Crazy Horse, rests in the medical’s examiner’s office – finally done walking her tormented path.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

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