Bryan Leger, a homeless man known for making straw hats and often seen near Crossbridge Church and Crandon Park, died Wednesday after being involved in an unspecified bicycle crash, police said. He was 63.
The exact circumstances of his death were not clear. Leger, who sometimes worked as a handyman at the church, was found next to his bicycle by two residents around 9 p.m. July 31, conscious and on the ground, bleeding from his head at a location near the church.
“Mr. Leger appeared to have been riding his bicycle while intoxicated,” the report states, noting that “numerous alcohol bottles were found.”
Leger was part of Key Biscayne’s small homeless population and was well-known to island police, said Chief Frank Sousa. He had been referred to Miami-Dade County service agencies several times, but refused, Sousa said.
Sousa said there was no evidence of a vehicle collision. As a matter of course for every fatality on Key Biscayne, detectives at Miami-Dade Police were notified. It’s not clear if an autopsy will be performed.
Tim Gamwell, a volunteer at Crossbridge, said Leger had been on and off Key Biscayne since the 70s, and was an excellent painter, but could not free himself from an alcohol addiction. “He was very independent,” Gamwell said.
Gamwell said he visited Leger a few times at Jackson Memorial Hospital after his injury, but said Leger was unable to respond or recognize him.
His sister, Diana Monkelis, said her brother was a free spirit who once worked as a deckhand, but who never wanted a conventional life. Originally from Pittsburgh, Leger was once featured in a Fort Myers Beach Observer newspaper story which gave him the moniker “Hat Man.” She said he never married, and never had kids. “I never knew anyone like him. He was such a free spirit.”
“He was at peace. That is what he wanted,” Monkelis said of Leger’s outdoor beach home. “It was his true love. Nothing better than sitting on the beach and seeing the sunrises and sunsets.”
“We couldn’t get him to wear a helmet. We begged him,” Monkelis added. “He lived free, and died the same way.”
Leger is survived by Monkelis, her sister Sharon, one brother, David Robes, and nephew Joshua Bonacci. A memorial service is tentatively set for Oct. 13 at 3 p.m. at Crossbridge Church, she said.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.