Homeless cyclist killed in Arlington had 'heart of gold'

Posted Friday, Mar. 15, 2013  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH -- The big whitewall bicycle tire on the TV screen on Monday caught Joyce Haynes' eye.

The bike had been hit by a pickup on West Pioneer Parkway in Arlington. Its rider was dead, the TV newscaster said.

Haynes knew someone whose bike had that kind of tires. The woman was a fixture in the Handley Drive neighborhood of far east Fort Worth. Her light blue Schwinn had large whitewall tires and a black banana seat wrapped in gray duct tape.

Haynes started calling friends. Hours later, she was in tears. It was as she feared. The bike rider was her buddy, 56-year-old Layn Stewart, who had been hit about noon Monday near The Oakridge School in west Arlington.

The pickup driver, witnesses and officers heading to a nearby police training center stopped to help, but Stewart was pronounced dead about an hour later at an Arlington hospital, authorities reported.

"We don't know where she was going," Haynes said Thursday. "But if the tires weren't flat, she went everywhere on that bike."

It was the only means of transportation for Stewart, a homeless woman who had carved out a life for years at campsites under overpasses in east Fort Worth.

In recent months, Haynes said, Stewart told her that she was living in a "chicken coop" at the back of a house in east Fort Worth.

'She was a good lady'

Tarrant County's homeless population continues to grow, according to an annual count conducted in January. There were 2,390 homeless people in January compared with 2,169 in January 2011, the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition estimated.

Stewart was one of them.

Alcohol and methamphetamine cost Stewart a roof over her head, but she had "a heart of gold," friends said.

Stewart was very proud of her 23-year-old son, James Pelow.

"She was a good lady," Pelow said Thursday. "She loved being around people she liked. And of course, she loved riding her bike."

Haynes met Stewart in 2005.

"I would see her from time to time at a bar," Haynes said. "One day when the two of us were in the bathroom, I gave her a $100 bill because I could tell life was hard for her.

"One day, I saw her walking down the street [near Haynes' house]. I yelled at her. She remembered me from the bathroom, and after that, we became friends."

For years, Stewart cleaned houses, mowed yards and did other odd jobs for money to pay for a cellphone, but many times it was turned off because she couldn't make payments.

Stewart never complained about being homeless, said Kelley Nicosia of Fort Worth, who said she knew Stewart for 15 years.

"People look down at the homeless," Nicosia said Thursday. "But she was very educated, intelligent and friendly."

In 2011, Stewart got her bike. She and a friend assembled it from assorted parts.

"Oh, she loved it," Haynes said.

One year, Stewart joined Haynes and Haynes' brother Duane McMichael in decorating what some have called "the homeless Christmas tree" on a hill on east Interstate 30. Haynes said she has decorated the tree for the past seven years in honor of Carla Lynette Christian, a homeless woman who started the tradition of decorating the lonely mimosa years ago.

Stewart sometimes lived with Haynes, but in September, she had to move out so a Haynes family member could move in.

"I would still see her riding around on her bicycle," Haynes said as she fought back tears Thursday morning. "I just hope she knew that somebody cared about her."

Domingo Ramirez Jr., 817-390-7763

Twitter: @mingoramirezjr