NEW PORT RICHEY — Royce Merton Shean, 94, ate breakfast every morning at Kiss My Grits restaurant after it opened in November at Congress and Massachusetts streets. He rode his motorized wheelchair a few blocks from his mobile home and arrived at 7 o'clock on the nose. Patty Oliveira served him two eggs over medium, two sausage patties and home fries. No bread. No coffee. The same thing every day.
"He brought his own tea bags,'' said Oliveira, 46. "Lipton green tea. And he brought a napkin full of vitamins. He was so sharp and independent. I looked forward to waiting on him.''
About 12:30 p.m. Thursday, hours after Shean had enjoyed his breakfast, Oliveira drove past an accident on U.S. 19 across from the Southgate Shopping Center. A body lay under a sheet.
"I prayed for the family,'' she said. "I had no idea it was Royce.''
Police said Shean died trying to maneuver his wheelchair west across busy six-lane U.S. 19 midway between intersections. A semitrailer truck struck him in the center lane.
New Port Richey Police Lt. Jim Steffens said the truck driver, Damian Gerardo Sanchez-Rodriguez, 39, of Spring Hill, tried to avoid the wheelchair and will not be charged. "He's traumatized,'' Steffens said.
When word spread through the police department that a man on a motorized wheelchair had been killed on U.S. 19, "officers started saying, 'I know him,' '' Steffens said Friday. "He rode that wheelchair everywhere.''
Barbara Wilken, 62, a certified nursing assistant, met Shean when he moved in next door two years ago. They became best friends. "Neither of us had family,'' she said. "My father had just died, and I just felt the need to care for him. He was the kindest, most generous man I've ever met.''
Wilken took Shean to doctors, did his laundry, cleaned his house. She dressed his wounds after he got hit twice by cars while riding his motorized wheelchair. "He rode it up to 30 miles some days,'' she said. "Mainly, he went to Books-A-Million. He was so intelligent, so well-read. He was always bringing me books.''
The latest delivery sat on her coffee table Friday: In My Own Words: An Introduction to My Teachings and Philosophy by the Dalai Lama.
Shean had been widowed since Mary Helen, his wife of 53 years, died in 2000. They had moved to Miami from upstate New York 48 years earlier and retired to New Port Richey in 1985. They had no children or other relatives, Wilken said.
Shean had been raised by his grandparents. He cooked in the Army and made a career as a carpenter. "He was so handsome as a young man,'' Wilken said. "Like a matinee idol.''
As an old man, he kept his wits, but lost his hearing, she said. "He was always misplacing his hearing aids,'' she said. He avoided white bread, ate whole grains, fruit and yogurt, and took dozens of vitamins. He even kept a sharp eye out for women.
"Yes,'' she said, "that's true.''
Bob DePrez, 61, lives across Durian Trail from Shean's yellow and brown singlewide. He said when the police came by late Thursday, he thought perhaps there had been a burglary. "We started talking, and then I said, 'He got hit by a car, didn't he?' They asked, 'How'd you know?' Everybody and his brother knew. He rode that scooter everywhere. It was just a matter of time.''
Wilken said she finds it hard to believe Shean would try to cross a highway without a light. "He always pushed the button and waited,'' she said. "This is a highly intelligent man we're talking about.''
Shean rode the battery-powered machine because he could no longer legally operate a vehicle. Not long after he moved into his mobile home, he bought a sport utility vehicle. "He'd only had it a day or two when he lost control and took down his carport,'' DePrez said. "I looked out my window and thought he was going to come through my house. Fortunately he got stuck in the sand.''
Wilken said Shean claimed to have a "spirit guide, like an angel who would tell him to do stuff. It seems strange, but it worked for him.'' She doubts there will be a funeral for him. "When you're 94,'' she said, "there's not a whole lot of people left to attend.''
Friday morning at the Kiss My Grits restaurant, Patty Oliveira and owners Kathy and Art Kaszubski set the table where Shean ate each day. They decorated it with roses and wouldn't let other customers sit there. The special of the day: Two eggs over medium, two sausage patties, home fries.