'He meant an awful lot:' Loved ones say goodbye to Nate Garski, killed while panhandling

MILWAUKEE -- Loved ones gathered Saturday, Feb. 22 to say goodbye to Nathan Garski -- a man police said was panhandling when he was struck by an SUV on Feb. 11 near 25th Street and Clybourn Street.

"He was a great person -- caring," said Heather Schoenrock.

"He touched a lot of people in ways that a lot of people can't in his situation," said Joshua Ciseski, Garski's brother.

The beloved 37-year-old was honored by dozens of mourners inside St. Francis of Assisi Parish Saturday morning.

"I'm going to miss his storytelling," said a friend, as a microphone was passed around to share stories.

"His personality," said another.

"Judging by what I see here, he meant an awful lot," said Ciseski. "He meant a lot to the community of Milwaukee."

Prosecutors said Todd Swessel was found unconscious behind the wheel of a Toyota 4Runner SUV with an open can of beer in his lap. Before that, witnesses said they saw a driver asleep at the wheel. The vehicle rolled backward, and Garski was run over. He died at the scene. Next to his body was a sign reading, "Homeless and hungry."

25th and Clybourn in Milwaukee

Todd Swessel

The medical examiner's report said there were "several cans of beer" in the Toyota4Runner SUV that struck Garski -- which had been parked on a hill about 50 feet from the intersection, facing north. The report said Garski was facing south and did not see the truck.

Swessel told investigating officers that he had consumed four beers, snorted some heroin, and also smoked synthetic marijuana prior to the collision. Swessel stated that he had no idea how he got to that location and had no memory of running over a pedestrian, the complaint said.

"I'm just so sad that he was taken the way that he was," said Shelly Sarasin with the homeless advocacy organization Street Angels Milwaukee Outreach. "Street Angels met Nate about four years ago, where he was living outside."

Life wasn't always easy, but those who knew him said Garski tried to stay positive.

"It will be an everyday reminder of, strong people never had easy past," said Sarasin. "Nate didn't have an easy past, but he was strong. He's going to be really missed by a lot of people."

Swessel was charged with homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Feb. 26.