A Life on the Street, Captured by Google

Homeless woman's tragic death spurs memories

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Google Street View
    Alma Murphy, a woman living on the street in Vallejo, was captured by Google's Street View cameras before her death.

    "I offered her help and she refused."

    It's a statement echoed over and over again by Vallejo resident Patricio Quinones and many others mourning Alma Murphy, a homeless woman who died Wednesday at a hospital in Sacramento.

    Murphy had been a burn patient at the University of California-Davis hospital there since November 18, 2009, the day she accidentally set herself on fire on Tennessee Street in downtown Vallejo, her longtime home. She had been burning candles to stay warm, according to the Vallejo Fire Department.

    A passerby saw the flames surrounding her and tried to put the fire out as the fire department was called. Controversy raged over the fire department's response. One witness told the Vallejo Times-Herald that it took 25 minutes for a fire truck to arrive -- city services have been ravaged by cutbacks in the bankrupt North Bay city -- but department spokesman Abel Tenorio said less than three minutes elapsed between the call to 911 and fire personnel's arrival on the scene.

    Still, the flames weren't put out fast enough to save Murphy.

    On Tennessee Street Friday, as controversial as the fire that led to her death were the mysterious circumstances of her life.

    Murphy was a fixture on Tennessee Street in Vallejo for over a decade.  She had two carts with her at all times.

    "One cart had her belongs in it, the other had potted plants," according to Quinones. "She was very soft spoken and seemed kind of shy."

    Some on the street said Murphy was rich. A lawyer across the street claimed Murphy had $600,000 in the bank.

    Another person said she saw her family come to the bus stop where she was living, begging her go come home.

    None of the speculation about Murphy's wealth and family life could be confirmed.

    But Murphy did leave unerasable traces of her life.

    One is physical: a memorial on Tennessee Street, with teddy bears and balloons and a folding chair, on the spot where she lived for many years.

    The other is digital. Google, which sends camera-equipped vehicles around the world snapping streetscapes, captured Murphy in her usual spot near a post office in Vallejo.

    It's not a bad way to remember Murphy. Tennesee Street doesn't seem the same without her. And in the bits-and-bytes world of Google Maps, her memory lives on.