A story for every victim

Dwayne Dale Fields, 62

Dwayne Fields, a 62-year-old black man, died Tuesday, Aug. 27, after he was set on fire near East 6th and San Pedro streets in downtown L.A., according to Los Angeles County coroner’s records.

On Aug. 26 about 11:30 p.m., Fields was inside his tent when another man set his living quarters ablaze. 

Responding officers found Fields walking down East 6th Street, his body still burning, according to two law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the case candidly. 

The officers tried to extinguish the flames, but Fields was badly burned. Fields was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 6:20 a.m. the next day. 

Jonathan Early, a 38 year-old black man, was charged with capital murder in connection with Fields’ death.  

During a court appearance Aug. 28, Deputy Dist. Atty. Joy Roberts said Early was captured at the scene and identified by witnesses as the man who set the blaze. 

Fields was a staple on skid row, and could frequently be seen with an acoustic or an electric guitar, strumming blues riffs that sounded identical to those of Fields’ idol, Jimi Hendrix. 

“Through arts and culture, through his music making, through his guitar playing, he was bringing the community together,” said Pete White, executive director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, a skid row advocacy group.

About three dozen people clutching purple balloons and purple roses — in memory of their friend’s love of “Purple Haze” — gathered three nights after the incident to remember Fields.

Angela James, deputy director of finance and operations at Los Angeles Community Action Network, said at the vigil that she met Fields when she started working with the organization about a year and a half ago. Since then, she saw him almost every day.

James never learned much of Fields’ life story — she knew he was from Flint, Mich., and had played with bands in L.A. and Las Vegas — but she grew to look forward to hearing him play his guitar every Thursday at the farmers market hosted by the Los Angeles Community Action Network.

“Some days we’d have a song together, and some days we’d just talk,” she said.

Fields’ longtime partner, Valarie Wertlow, said that mutual attraction helped start their relationship, but it was Fields’ kindness that kept them together. 

“If you needed anything ... he had it,” she said. “He had you.”

Fields was actively involved in Los Angeles Community Action Network, performing alongside the group’s band and its “freedom singers,” and had previously played with a Jimi Hendrix tribute group, White said. 

Those who knew him said Fields was grateful for any opportunity to perform, no matter the size of the crowd.

“Every time I saw him, he was talking to somebody with a gleam in his eye, excited he was going to play a show. ... That was just his thing,” said General Jeff Page, an activist and fixture in the skid row community. “It was like breathing to him.”

Fields lived in the area near 6th and San Pedro sporadically for about five years, White said. 

He had been able to find housing several times but struggled to stay off the streets for long because most buildings could not also provide shelter for Fields’ girlfriend, who suffers from “mobility issues” due to a medical condition, White said.

White said he hopes people remember Fields’ for his talent and his personality, rather than where he slept and died.

“He was much more to us than a transient person, than a homeless person, in skid row,” White said.

-- Times staff writers Richard Winton and Jaclyn Cosgrove contributed to this report. 

Contact the Homicide Report. Follow @latimeshomicide on Twitter.

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