February 26, 2014 - By Meg Peters
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Review Staff Writer
Rumors sprung up all over town that Bruce Gertz was found dead behind Kmart after a local woman called the police thinking he was frozen under his stiff blankets.
"Bruce" is the homeless man who rides his bike down M24, and has been living behind Kmart and the old Arby's, and sometimes behind Burger King, near some dumpsters.
He was sleeping in eight or nine sleeping bags when OC deputies forced him off the ground, into the car, and into a hospital during the coldest weeks in January.
Lietenent Dan Toth said Bruce, who is often seen in the summer, is often "missing" in the winter.
Since he was reported missing, Oakland county deputies have searched almost daily for Lake Orion's most popular homeless man, and at least one deputy on duty has taken the "Bruce watch," Toth said.
"We actually had the sheriff's aviation unit go up with a spotter," Toth said. "We are making every possible effort that we can. I think that the residents who have lived in Orion for some time know what we are up against. He puts himself in those dangerous situations, and refuses any help."
Wednesday around 15 dogs were out at it again, lining both sides of M-24, looking for any signs of clothing or duffel bags behind businesses and in the woods.
He's not at his brother's house, Dirk Gertz, his closest known relative in Lapeer County, and he's not in the local warming shelters on Baldwin or in Pontiac.
He's not behind Kmart, the old Arby's, or Nick's Pizza and Keg, nor the wooded areas, the trails, the jail or hospitals.
Both of his parents have passed on, and any other relative is more than 700 miles away.
For all the Oakland County Sheriff's Department could know, he could be in Daytona.
"Just like the residents, we want to know, where is Bruce?" Toth asked.
Toth said alcoholism and substance abuse are some issues that Bruce has, and that Bruce is a regular at the local party stores. Since 2005, police have made contact with him 41 times, and 13 of those times Bruce has either been arrested or summoned to court for intoxication or littering.
But that has in no way stopped the community from caring for the past 20 years he has made Lake Orion his home.
"He's been like a fixture in Lake Orion. About four weeks ago with the last deep freeze we forced him into the hospital," Toth said.
The sheriff's department had him checked both physically and mentally, and doctors cleared him after a day and a half at McLaren.
He went to a warming shelter on Baldwin, but refused to stay there more than a day. Toth said his deputies are working overtime trying to find him while residents are also checking his usual spots bearing coats and sleeping bags.
Tons of people have posted on Facebook their interactions with Bruce, including giving him blankets, boots, oranges, jerkey, coffee, milkshakes, fast food, batteries, the works.
"Glad to hear he is OK. Bruce will take a slice of Jet's but it does give him heartburn. He prefers something with less spice," Jeff Aisthorpe posted.
"He loves to listen to Tiger's games in the summer on his little radio. We bought him a bunch of hand and feet warmers/thermal socks, bibs and a very warm hooded coat in December," Stacey Blaine posted.
One poster said he paid for him to stay at a local hotel for a week.
Social services have been in contact off and on with Bruce over the past two decades.
"They interviewed him and tried to get him to go along with some of their programs, and once again it's frustrating. We don't think that it is typical behavior to be out there when the temperature is negative ten degrees, but then again he has constitutional rights to live his life the way he chooses. We can't arrest him for sleeping in a sleeping bag like that," Toth said, also mentioning the rules have been bent for him at times.
Bruce is enlisted in the Michigan Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN), so if anyone finds him and runs him in the computer, the OC Sheriff's department will be contacted.