Richard Sprague was a peaceful, loving and selfless man who was simply trying to buy a pack of cigarettes before he was left to die on a Mission district side street early on a recent weekend morning.
Sprague’s partner and also his sister, who are both still trying to come to grips with the callous killing Feb. 19, spoke Sunday with The San Francisco Examiner.
“He truly was the most caring person I have ever known,” said David Nielsen, 59, Sprague’s partner of 20 years. “He’s not the kind of person that would want a fight.”
The couple lived together on Oakwood Street near Dolores Park, just blocks from where Sprague, 47, was found dead on Julian Avenue.
Residents of Julian Avenue near 15th Street reported hearing a man cry for help — but it was not until some five hours later, after one neighbor discovered Sprague’s body on the sidewalk, that police were called. Neighbors later said they regretted not calling 911 immediately. The block is a known haven for drinking and drug use.
“Of course it upsets me,” Nielsen said. “It wouldn’t have happened in my neighborhood. In my estimation, The City needs to clean up the area near 15th and Mission. As soon as the businesses close down [at night], there’s nothing but predators out there.”
The night of Sprague’s death, Nielsen said the two had returned home from a friend’s birthday party and Sprague — who had been trying to quit smoking — went back out to buy a pack of cigarettes.
“He left the house and never came back home,” Nielsen said.
When Nielsen awoke in the morning, he began calling police and local hospitals to report his partner missing. In the afternoon, homicide inspectors told him they had found Sprague’s ATM card on a man at 16th and Mission streets. That man has been charged with receiving stolen property, but nothing else.
Murder charges had not been filed as of Sunday, and a cause of death has yet to be determined.
“I don’t want to speculate,” Nielsen said.
Sprague’s sister, Gayle Takashima of Seattle, remembered her brother Sunday as a loving person with a quick wit who had many passions — including helping injured animals, horticulture and gems, his chosen career (Sprague worked as a jeweler at Neiman Marcus). Takashima also said her brother had dealt with hardships before, such as when he was hit by a truck while walking in a crosswalk and was severely injured several years ago in San Francisco.
“They saved his life, but it caused a lot of damage,” Takashima said. Sprague left his job with Neiman Marcus and had to walk with a cane.
Takashima said she is still in shock about her brother’s killing.
“Rick was one of the sweetest, kindest, gentlest people you could ever meet,” she said. “He was proud of who he was, and loved life fiercely.”
“San Francisco hasn’t been kind to him,” Takashima said.