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Homeless woman killed in accident was a roadside presence

DUNEDIN — Estelle Yurman was an anonymous celebrity.

The 69-year-old homeless woman spent almost every day at the corner of Belcher Road and State Road 580 holding up religious signs about Jesus, Israel and other topics.

People who worked at the intersection or passed through it every day remember the slight woman and her signs, even if they never heard her name.

About 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, she was pushing her shopping cart the wrong direction on Enterprise Road just south of State Road 580, when she was struck and killed by a Honda Civic, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

The report said she was walking in the roadway and no charges have been filed against the car's driver, Lonnie R. Jacobs, 66, of Clearwater.

Bill McElligott, division chief at Dunedin Fire Rescue, remembers Yurman well because of the handmade cardboard signs. She was hard to miss on an otherwise typical street corner.

Just this month, Yurman was profiled in a community newspaper, the Countryside Cougar, where a writer sat down with her to get a brief sketch of her life.

According to the article, Yurman hailed from Rhode Island. She had been homeless for 20 years, 10 of them in Florida. Each day, she wrote a newsletter for herself on current events. "She told the writer she was in need of a watch battery, a better shopping cart and felt pens, along with clothes and other items.

Alex Mikhail, manager of the Mobil gas station and convenience store on the northeast corner of the intersection, remembered reading the article. She came into his store every day — to use the bathroom and to drink free coffee. She made an impression, even though he never heard her voice or knew her name.

"She never gave anyone a hard time," Mikhail said. "She's like a saint."

He said she used to sit in the parking lot by the store's signs for gasoline, cigarettes and carwashes. Sometimes he'd offer her a cake because she seemed very frail. He remembers the skin on her face looked soft like a baby's.

When she said thank you, Mikhail said, it was without words.

"She didn't bother nobody," said Sophia Patelakis, the store's morning clerk.

Yurman would show up around 9 or 10 a.m. and stay on for the day. One time, Patelakis tried to give her a free cup of coffee and Yurman turned it down, producing some money she had scrounged up and saying she wanted to pay.

The death came as a shock to the store. "I feel sorry for her," Patelakis said. "That's life."

Mikhail said he wanted to go to her funeral to make sure at least someone showed up.

At the Shell gas station and convenience store on the northwest corner of the intersection, employees said Yurman's death was inevitable.

"I thought she was going to get killed," said Seif Mansour, owner of the station. He said he went out almost every day to warn her she was sitting too close to the road.

The workers in the store recognized her more distinctly than they remembered her signs. They didn't always make sense.

She brought in empty cups so she wouldn't be charged for refills on coffee, said Sue Ross, who works at the Subway sandwich shop, inside the convenience store. "She was a nice lady, always leaving religious paraphernalia," Ross said.

Sometimes, however, she ran afoul of the law. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office had come in contact with her 92 times since 1992, including seven arrests, mostly on trespassing charges.

On the afternoon Yurman died, Ross saw her at the Steak 'n Shake a little way down on State Road 580 near the Countryside Mall. The two said hello.

"I just feel bad," Ross said. "I've seen her quite often and it reminds me how many people are homeless and it's just heart-breaking."

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Homeless woman killed in accident was a roadside presence 12/11/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 5:11pm]
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