WEEKI WACHEE — John Kelly, whose habit of ambling along Hernando County's busy roadways earned him his nickname, "The Walker,'' and nearly got him beaten to death in September 2007, was reported missing Thursday.
He had not been seen since Wednesday evening, so the Sheriff's Office sent out automated calls to ask people to help look for him. Authorities also issued a media bulletin seeking clues to his whereabouts.
Just a few hours after the alarms went off, Kelly was seen by a neighbor who had heard about the alert. Deputies located him near the county's waste transfer station on Osowaw Boulevard, miles from his home near Weeki Wachee.
Kelly had a case of the nutritional supplement Ensure under his arm and claimed to have been all the way north to Crystal River overnight.
"He used to think that he could walk all the way to Miami if he drank his Ensure,'' said his brother, George Kelly, who had been looking for him since he went missing.
Kelly, 50, had last been seen about 8 p.m. Wednesday in the 6500 block of Standish Street in Weeki Wachee, according to the Sheriff's Office alert. Hours earlier, he had slipped away from the home he shares with George Kelly on Waverly Road.
Kelly has lifelong mental challenges and, since the vicious beating, has also shown signs of dementia, his brother said.
He has wandered all his life, but now cannot always find his way home, so George Kelly tries to keep him close to their house. It doesn't always work. Kelly wandered away Wednesday when his brother was trying to deal with another family crisis.
The Walker's story became well known after the September 2007 beating.
On one of his walks, Kelly was attacked along busy State Road 50 in Spring Hill. He was severely beaten, robbed and left for dead in a ditch. He crawled to a nearby fire station for help and spent months in a hospital recovering from his injuries.
Three young men have been charged in the attack, which outraged the community. One of the men, Anthony Hawkins, 18, took a plea deal with prosecutors for probation in exchange for his testimony against the other two alleged assailants.
Jamie Lynn Tyson, 18, and Michael Vann, 24, were expected to stand trial earlier this month on attempted murder charges for their roles in the brutal beating. Their trials have been moved to Lake County in April because of the intense pretrial publicity.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.