Darius Heckford, the Louisiana man and aspiring brick mason found dead in a Rock Hill hotel room earlier this week, came to the city as part of a construction crew making repairs on the Resolute Forest Products plant in Catawba, relatives and co-workers said Wednesday.
Questions remain about the circumstances surrounding Heckford’s death, still a mystery after York County Coroner Sabrina Gast said autopsy results were inconclusive.
Authorities at about 11:30 a.m. Monday were sent to the Ramada Inn on Cherry Road when Heckford’s co-workers asked them to perform a welfare check. When they arrived, they found Heckford dead in his room. He was alone when police found him, Gast said. He would have been 47 on Wednesday.
The York County Coroner’s Office has called Heckford’s death suspicious, but Gast will not disclose reasons for her office’s position. Gast did say Heckford did not suffer from any significant superficial wounds indicating a gunshot or stabbing.
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Gast said officials are waiting on Heckford’s toxicology tests to return. Police continue to investigate Heckford’s death, Lt. Brad Redfearn of the Rock Hill Police Department said.
Heckford worked for RAB Inc., a Louisiana-based construction company with regional offices in Alabama and Texas. A construction team arrived in Rock Hill last week to work at the Resolute plant, formerly Bowater, in Catawba during a scheduled outage in which the plant shuts down for a period of time while repairs are made, said Deryl Cole, a construction manager with RAB who worked with Heckford for nearly a decade.
Crew members were staying at the Ramada Inn on North Cherry Road while finishing work in Catawba and were scheduled to return to Louisiana on Sunday morning, Cole said. Co-workers realized Heckford was missing when he didn’t show up at a rendezvous point to prepare for the drive home. Employees began searching for him, eventually notifying law enforcement of his disappearance.
The discovery of Heckford’s body Monday morning, Cole said, has “thrown a rift through the company.”
“He’s one of our key men,” Cole said about Heckford, whom he called a “brick mason-in-training.”
“He was very charismatic; he was well-liked by all of our men,” Cole said. “He was a valuable asset to the company” and “very good at what he did,” particularly when installing heat-proof liners inside boilers.
“We’re very disheartened to see what has happened,” Cole said.
Heckford was born and raised in Bastrop, La., until he moved to West Monroe, between 30 to 45 minutes away, said Drew Heckford, his brother.
“He was a good guy,” Drew Heckford said. “He’d do anything in the world for you. ... Even if he didn’t have money, he tried his best to do whatever he could.”
He also was a joker who often gave his siblings, cousins and other relatives silly nicknames. He called Drew Heckford “Droppy” and “Drip Lip.”
“He’d just come up with some stuff; it was crazy,” Drew Heckford said. “You’d never know what he was going to call you.”
Heckford is survived by three brothers, a sister, a mother and one son.