She was kind, and funny, and an artist.
Lisa Vach died in Cal Anderson Park a week ago tonight, murdered by a man her life had become intertwined with. She was 38.
Remember Lisa Vach, please, friend and colleague Sirena Ross asks.
“She was extremely charming. One of those people who made you feel very at home as soon as you met her,” Ross tells CHS.
She and Vach met working together for Pioneer Square tourist institution Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour. There, Vach ran the gift shop. Ross said Vach put her creativity and energy into overhauling the shop. That kind of energy to create also showed in another job Vach held down doing housekeeping for the bed and breakfast above the Merchant Cafe where she went beyond cleaning the rooms and took on redecorating the place.
Vach was also a fighter with a strong sense of justice who once confronted another employee over his abuse of a homeless woman, Ross said.
It is difficult to connect that life to the one that ended last Wednesday in Cal Anderson. CHS reported here on the domestic violence murder-suicide in which Vach was found assaulted. choked, and dying in the park and the police standoff with suspect Travis Berge ended with him dead inside the park’s reservoir pumphouse.
Vach’s time in Cal Anderson was much different than the times Ross describes. Vach was swept up in the July 1st raid on CHOP and the Cal Anderson camp, police records show, and booked — but never charged — for failure to disperse. She was known as a regular around the ongoing activist efforts to establish a mutual aid center and camp in the park.
But she and Berge also became known as a dangerous combination living in a mix of addiction and mental crisis amid the activism and camping. A person with knowledge of the situation described one terrible assault that came just a day prior to the deadly rampage that resulted in a volunteer being sent to the hospital.
Berge’s death, pulmonary edema inhalation of toxic fumes from the tank of chlorine bleach solution they found him inside in the pumphouse, and Berge’s life, notoriously arrested in King County around 50 times in the past seven years, made headlines across the country.
With the focus on his violent end, Vach’s death — and life — were mostly ignored.
A week after the terrible incident, WHEEL, a group advocating for homeless and formerly homeless women, stood vigil for Vach outside Seattle City Hall and marked the death of at least 11 homeless people they say have been killed by homicidal violence so far this year in the city. WHEEL says it was standing for Berge, too. “We mourn for both these lost souls, and their friends and families,” the group writes.
Cal Anderson, meanwhile, remains officially closed to the public since the July raid and through subsequent sweeps though activists, volunteers, and campers continue to return to the space along with the joggers and neighbors walking dogs. The city was driving a community design process to bring “public safety” changes and improvements even before the killing.
Ross wants more people to know about the times before Cal Anderson Park and the Vach she knew. “I hadn’t spoken to her in quite awhile, my last interaction I tried to get her to find housing in Tacoma but she wanted to stay in Seattle,” she posted about Vach to Reddit. “She had several potential housing situations. I thought she would be fine. She had a lot of close friends and she was smart. I do not know how Travis Berge entered her life.”
Ross said the last time she was in regular contact with her friend was last November and doesn’t know how to explain the months that followed after she tried to help Vach find housing but lost touch.
“She was a real person,” Ross said. “She wasn’t broken.”
HELP KEEP CHS 'PAY WHAT YOU CAN' FOR EVERYONE -- SUBSCRIBE TODAY! Support local journalism dedicated to your neighborhood. SUBSCRIBE HERE. Join to become a subscriber at $1/$5/$10 a month to help CHS provide community news with NO PAYWALL. You can also sign up for a one-time annual payment.