ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The news of his son’s death was almost too much to take in – how a freak accident killed him, where it killed him, how after years of not hearing from him it would end up like this.
It was never supposed to end up like this.
It was never supposed to end.
“We had great faith he would come home one day,” Jerry Carlson said of his son Kris, who for the last five years of his life had wandered the streets, often in the Southwest, homeless and reclusive. “He was going to come through the front door. I had faith in that.”
Carlson stops as the tears fall. They come easy when he talks about the son he lost.
He and wife, Kathy, have traveled from their Kennewick home in southeast Washington to Albuquerque to learn what they can about how Kris, 38, ended up here, how he lived and how he died.
They know something about the latter. As freak accidents go, this was one of the freakiest. Three days after Christmas 2015, Kris walked east on the weedy shoulder of westbound Interstate 40 just west of the Coors interchange. He was carrying a suitcase. No one knows where he had been or where he was going.
In the far left lane, a semitruck barreled west, passing under the interchange and unwittingly launching a deadly missile when its rear dual tires broke off, veered diagonally across three lanes and struck Kris head-on, as if he had been the target.
Kris, looking down as he walked, likely never knew what hit him. He died instantly.
Albuquerque police called it “other mechanical defect.” The state Office of the Medical Investigator called it an accidental death by blunt trauma.
It took nearly three weeks for OMI officials to find his parents in Kennewick, using fingerprints and records from Kris’ stint in the Army from 2008 to 2010.
“We had no idea he was here,” Jerry Carlson said. “We had no idea where he was.”
It hadn’t always been that way. The Carlsons and their four children were a close bunch in the early years. Kris, the second oldest, was a happy kid, respectful and well-adjusted with friends and hobbies. He was hard-working, earning money to pay for his toys even as young as 8 when he mowed lawns for neighbors.
“We taught our kids to be independent, to work hard for themselves,” Carlson said. “I think we did everything right.”
But, his father said, Kris was hard on himself. Too hard. That, he said, may have contributed to his growing estrangement from the family as an adult when his setbacks began piling up. He dropped out of several colleges, lost jobs, could not maintain relationships.
“Something went wrong,” he said. “Maybe I taught him to be too independent. If he was having problems, he must have felt he couldn’t come to me. He didn’t trust me enough to help. Maybe I didn’t compliment him enough.”
But Carlson had tried, encouraging his son to keep at it, seek counseling, find a new school, a new job. As the siblings grew up, obtained careers, married and had children, Kris was left behind. Around 2011, he broke away altogether.
“Maybe it was low self-esteem or maybe depression,” Carlson said. “I don’t think it was drugs. He was always so against them. We feel he must have been very embarrassed about personal issues. This may have been mixed with feelings of anger toward different things. We had hoped that he would return one day after wandering around searching for whatever it was that he was looking for.”
A last Facebook post from Kris, dated June 6, 2013, indicated he was looking for a ride out of San Diego. His family never heard from him again.
After his death, the Carlsons received his remains and little else – the boots, khakis, gloves, scarf and coats he wore, a small nylon drawstring satchel with the words “LOOK FOR ME” printed in upper case. They also received a small plastic bag containing cards from banks, restaurants, grocery stores, library from Arizona and New Mexico, and an EBT card with a 4-cent balance. A driver’s license was issued Sept. 11, 2014, and bore the address of Paz de Cristo, an outreach center for homeless people in Mesa, Ariz. Another card was from the Secular Student Alliance of the University of New Mexico.
These are all Carlson has to help him piece together the last years of his son’s life. He’s come to Albuquerque to do that.
“I have the goal to walk in his steps,” he said. “The more I trace his steps the more I find out about him. It gives me the truth, though the truth is not always positive.”
One of those truths: According to the autopsy, Kris had a recreational level of methamphetamine in his system.
Carlson has amassed a lot of notes, made a lot of calls, traveled the parts of Albuquerque few out-of-towners want to see. So far, he’s found that Kris had connections to St. Martin’s Hospitality Center and Joy Junction, two of the larger agencies for the homeless population in Albuquerque.
That isn’t much to go on.
So he’s hoping someone out there knew Kris Carlson, can help him trace his son’s steps, can assure him that his son had friends and was not lonely. And maybe someone out there can help him understand why his son took those steps that took him so far away.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.