, June 24, 2022

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Third person confirmed dead in Vallejo’s Project RoomKey

  •   4 min reads
Third person confirmed dead in Vallejo’s Project RoomKey
The Rodeway Inn in Vallejo. Photo: John Glidden.

VALLEJO – A third woman died in Vallejo’s Project RoomKey program, which was intended to help medically vulnerable people during the pandemic, in November 2020, the Vallejo Sun has learned.

Like two others who died in May and June of last year, the woman’s family said she was not found for days.

Angela Cook, who was in her late 40s, died in her sleep of a heart attack at the Rodeway Inn at 4 Mariposa St. sometime in late November 2020, her son Tim Cook said in an interview. She was found on Nov. 28, two days after Thanksgiving, but Cook said that she had been dead for days before she was found.

Angela Cook holds her son Tim Cook as an infant.
Angela Cook holds her son Tim Cook as an infant. Photo courtesy Tim Cook.

The Solano County coroner’s office confirmed that Cook died at the Rodeway Inn, but said the investigation into her death remains ongoing more than a year later.

City of Vallejo spokesperson Christina Lee also confirmed a third person died during Project RoomKey, but said the person died at a hospital. Lee would not discuss specifics about the deaths in the program and did not respond to direct questions about how many people died during Project RoomKey. The Vallejo Sun has submitted public records requests for any other deaths.

The Vallejo Sun learned of Cook’s death after publishing revelations that two other women in Project RoomKey had died in the spring. Project RoomKey was a program started in March 2020 to provide space in hotel rooms for medically vulnerable people suffering from homelessness.

At the Hampton Inn at 1596 Fairgrounds Drive, 38-year-old Margaret Morgan was found dead on May 20 and 63-year-old Cheryl Nicoletta was found dead on June 14. An autopsy of Morgan was unable to determine her cause of death because her body was too badly decomposed after she was dead for days, according to a coroner’s report. The death investigation into Nicoletta is ongoing, but she was also dead for days before she was found, according to a Vallejo police report.

Journalist Katy St. Clair reported this week that Morgan’s mother, Liona Smith, who lived across the hall from her daughter during Project RoomKey, said Morgan had a developmental disability and diabetes, requiring regular insulin injections. After she had not seen her daughter for a week, Smith alerted hotel staff and Morgan was found unresponsive on the floor, according to the coroner’s report.

Angela Cook suffered from chronic medical conditions as well, according to her son. He said she had seizures, problems breathing and was preparing for a second back surgery. She was homeless off and on and often stayed with friends, but there was nowhere she could consistently stay.

In the middle of 2020, Tim Cook said people who knew his mother saw her sleeping at the courthouse or city hall. Shortly after that, she entered Project RoomKey and started staying at the Rodeway Inn.

Cook said he tried to call his mother on Nov. 28, but instead a county medical worker answered and told him his mother was dead. He said he went to the Rodeway Inn and crime scene investigators were still there.

“To me it was a little comfort that she didn't suffer but I was kind of flabbergasted they didn't do an everyday check the day after Thanksgiving to see how everybody was doing in their rooms,” Cook said.

Project RoomKey officially ended on Wednesday. The nonprofit organization 4th Second, which was formed in 2019 by Richard and Emily Fisher, has taken responsibility for housing the approximately 50 people remaining in the program after the city council ended its last meeting without a clear plan for the program’s end.

The City Council is expected to discuss a motel voucher program for the Project RoomKey participants at its Jan. 11 meeting. City officials said that everyone in the program would leave on Wednesday. Vallejo Together, another group assisting with the relocation, said they were moved either to tiny homes or other motels in Vallejo and Vacaville.

Project RoomKey operated statewide during the pandemic, with local agencies overseeing the program. In Solano County, it operated briefly in Vacaville, in Fairfield until early 2021 and in Vallejo through 2021. Vallejo’s program at one point operated in three hotels, the Rodeway Inn, the Hampton Inn, and at the Best Western Plus Heritage Inn in Benicia. By the end of last summer, only the Hampton was still being used for Project RoomKey.

Funding for the program has been precarious for months, and it has kept operating through one-time funds from the state and federal government. County officials said costs for the program varied, costing between $350,000 and $650,000 per month.

City officials also redirected funds to Project RoomKey that were intended for a badly delayed homeless navigation center, contributing to a $2.3 million funding gap. However, even if the city were to obtain the funds for the navigation center, it revealed last month that the proposed site is contaminated from prior industrial uses, and the city has no location lined up to build it.

Meanwhile, the city expects to pay the Hampton Inn roughly $1 million for damages to the hotel incurred during Project RoomKey.

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