Saturday, January 20, 2018
Public safety

Homeless man in Brooksville killed when propane tank explodes

BROOKSVILLE — Larry Workman didn't have a roof over his head, but he did have a place.

For the past nine years, the 54-year-old transient made his home in a wooded lot off U.S. 98 on the northwest side of Brooksville. He used a well-worn path near the train tracks to dip into society and then out again.

"He said that was his own little paradise," said his sister, Shirley Robinson. "He had everything he wanted."

In the predawn darkness Monday, Workman died among the pines and palms.

Firefighters responding to a brush fire about 5:30 a.m. found Workman's burned body about 10 feet from a flaming camp tent. Investigators think a portable propane tank exploded.

It was a violent end for a generally peaceful man who battled alcoholism most of his life, said Gene Bell, the owner of the property.

"We were always concerned about his health out there, with his addiction and things that could go wrong," Bell said.

Born in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, Workman was the third of nine siblings, Robinson said. He never married or had children.

Bell, the president of a Brooksville insurance company, first met Workman on a frigid day about 10 years ago. Workman poked his head into the sanctuary of Brooksville Church of Christ just as the preacher was about to start his sermon.

When Bell took him aside, Workman said he wasn't a panhandler. He didn't want money or food, just some help.

Off and on since then, Workman did lawn work and other odd jobs for Bell and others around Brooksville. In return, Bell let him stay on the property.

At one point, a landlord let Workman live in an apartment in exchange for labor, but he wasn't comfortable there, Bell said.

When he was sober, Workman was always presentable, polite and ready to work. He would visit Robinson in her trailer west of Brooksville and help her with chores. "He helped me out quite a bit," she said.

Then he would go on a drinking binge and disappear.

Workman enrolled at least twice in programs to sober up, including a stint at Brooksville's Jericho Road Ministries.

"He wanted to," Bell said, "but he couldn't beat the demons."

Workman's arrest record in Florida dates back to 1990 and shows convictions for petty theft, disorderly intoxication and trespassing. He was arrested this month for failing to show up for a court date and spent a week in the Hernando County Detention Center. He got out Friday and headed back to his camp.

Bell said he's almost certain that Workman took a small propane tank into the tent to heat water, keep warm or both. Bell figures the tank had a leak and that Workman triggered the explosion when he lit a cigarette.

On Monday, Workman's Giant bicycle sat parked near the charred remains of the tent, the front wheel bent and blackened. His jeans and shorts hung on a clothesline near a camp shower. In the kitchen area, near a stove and a box of utensils and spices, a calendar tacked to a tree showed the month of October. In the trash can: a few empty bottles of Richards Wild Irish Rose wine.

"The best thing to do is scatter his ashes to the wind," Robinson said, "because he was a free spirit."

Times news researcher Natalie Watson and Bay News 9 contributed to this report. Reach Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. On Twitter: @TMarreroTimes.

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