Hit-and-run driver kills “Penny Man” Eddie Davis on what would’ve been his last night of homelessness

By Gary Walker

Left: Eddie Davis was known as Penny Man for collecting good luck pennies and sharing them with strangers (Photo courtesy of Ronnie Sanders)
Right: The Tree Man of Venice, Monroe Davis and Bear stand guard at a memorial for Davis on the Wave Crest Court sidewalk where an SUV ran him over in his sleeping bag (Photo by Mia Duncans)

After more than a decade of homelessness along the Venice Boardwalk, 35-year-old Eddie Davis was ready to start a new life.

Known to locals as Penny Man, Davis decorated his bicycle and well-worn denim vest with shiny pennies he would collect and often pass out to strangers and friends for good luck.

He set aside April 18, however, for saying goodbye to his homeless family. Davis told them he had finally locked down subsidized housing in Los Angeles, and his brother was about to move him into a local hotel until the deal went through.

But the Penny Man never made it home.

At 1:30 a.m. on April 19, a wrong-way driver heading north along Speedway reversed course onto the terminus of Wave Court Avenue, crashed into a fence and rolled over Davis twice as he lay in
a sleeping bag at his usual spot along a narrow sidewalk.

Witnesses told the LAPD’s West Traffic Division that Davis was struck by what appeared to be a dark blue or black Chevy Tahoe or GMC Yukon, and that the driver of the vehicle exchanged seats with a passenger before speeding away from the scene, said Det. Gary McQueen.

One of Davis’ friends, a homeless man who goes by the name Bear, told The Argonaut that Davis usually shared a tent with three other people at the same spot where he was killed.

“The night before we were all kicking it right here,” Bear said quietly, pointing to spot where a shrine has been erected in Davis’ memory. “If that had happened the night before, there would have been four deaths instead of one.”

Bear said he saw the SUV proceeding the wrong way on Speedway before suddenly backing up and swerving toward the beach onto Wave Crest, rolling over Davis. The SUV pulled forward, running over Davis again before slamming into a wooden fence and knocking down a street sign and a utility pole on the other side of Speedway, where Wave Court becomes a walk street.

Monroe Davis, who is no relation to Penny Man but often shared a tent with him, said they didn’t pitch the tent on the night of the hit-and-run because a mutual friend known as Grandma wasn’t feeling safe and Monroe decided to sleep near her a short distance away, closer to the beach.

“I’m just now coming out of a daze. I was in shock about what happened to Eddie for days,” said Monroe Davis, who said he tried to perform CPR on his friend. “I knew he was gone when he started bleeding out of his nose.”

Monroe Davis, who sells drawings on the Venice Boardwalk, said Eddie Davis was from East St. Louis, Ill., had 5- and 7-year-old daughters that he visited last year, and played the guitar.

“That’s how we became friends, because I’m an artist and he played the guitar,” Monroe Davis said.

Penny Man was also a frequent participant in the Venice Electric Light Parade, parade founder Marcus Gladney said.

“I didn’t know him personally, but he would come to the parade on Sundays, do the parade with us and then he and his friends would go back to the boardwalk to hunker down,” Gladney said. “On weekdays I would ride past him and his bike in front of the [since closed] Venice Freakshow collecting pennies from tourists for his bike.”

“He was my friend and he was the salt of the earth,” said Ronnie Sanders, a longtime Venice local who memorialized Davis on social media.

Bear said he hopes the police work hard to catch those who killed his friend.

“Just because Eddie was homeless like the rest of us, it doesn’t mean that he and we are any less human,” Bear said.

The Los Angeles City Council offers monetary rewards for information leading to the arrest of hit-and-run drivers but an announcement related to this case is pending. Anyone with information is asked to call police
at (213) 4730-0234.