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MAN FOUND DEAD IN LAKE WAS DRIFTER

Foul play appears unlikely in the death of a "gentle soul," who had problems with alcohol.

During their morning walk on Sept. 12, Rose Murphy and her Chihuahua, Cookie, found a body floating in a lake near their home. It was a Saturday, gray and misty with rain. Murphy didn't scream.

In seconds, she took in the scene: a dark-colored bicycle, backpack, nearly empty jug of vodka and a pack of cigarettes were on the ground near the edge of the water. One cigarette was pulled out of the pack, as if the man had it in his hands to light it when it happened, whatever it was.

The man was a few feet from shore, face down, in a T-shirt and jeans. His face was to the side. It seemed to have been chewed.

"You're seeing a body, Rose," a voice inside Murphy's head told her. "You are seeing a body."

She and Cookie ran, not looking back, through the grass, across the street to a friend's house. The friend called 911.

- - -

The previous night, Joel Montgomery was on patrol with his wife, a baseball bat and a flashlight. In the past few months, their quiet neighborhood felt like it was under attack. Thieves - punk kids, they suspected - had been brazen; stealing bikes off porches, wallets from cars, in broad daylight and at night. Neighbors banded together to fight.

It was midnight and Montgomery heard something gurgling over by the lake.

He shined his flashlight.

"What the hell are you doing?" he shouted.

He saw a man on his back in the grass and thought he saw a hand waving in the air. Seemed like a homeless guy crashing there for the night.

"I thought he was puking because he was drunk," Montgomery said.

He wasn't going down there, in the dark, to check it out. So he went home.

- - -

Four days later, the man's identity was released by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

His name was Scott Michael Barry. He was born June 28, 1960, in Illinois. The Sheriff's Office said his last known address was in Hillsboro Beach - on the southeast coast of the state, more than 266 miles from the manicured lake where he died in Beacon Woods. It was strange. His body was sent to the Medical Examiner's Office to determine his cause of death.

"At this point," said sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll, "there is no suspicion of foul play.

Authorities said it appeared Barry was homeless. He was not.

- - -

Christine Alfonso is Barry's sister. She said he lived with her in Hillsboro Beach until this spring, when their relatives - a husband and wife who are 91 and live in Beacon Woods - both fell ill and needed help. Alfonso and Barry came. She said Barry changed their diapers, got them showered and fed, took care of their home.

"He was a gentle soul," Alfonso said.

Alfonso needed to get back to her international shipping business and she left in July. Barry stayed to continue to care for the couple. In his free time, he did odd jobs for neighbors: repairing sprinklers, carpentry work. Alfonso said Barry had a gift for fixing things.

He often rode his bike to the library, bringing home bags full of books to read, usually mysteries. Barry never drove again after a 1994 accident in Hollywood, Fla., she said. He was arrested for DUI and leaving the scene of an accident causing injury. He spent six months in prison.

Alcohol was his demon. Alfonso said he struggled with it in his adult life.

Alfonso said as a teenager her brother fell in love with a girl named Trisha and she got pregnant. She said Trisha's family moved her away and Barry couldn't find them. He first saw his daughter four years later, when Trisha brought the girl, named Melissa, to visit. And then they were gone again.

Alfonso said Barry never recovered. He never married. Never settled down in one place long, adopting the life of a drifter - moving in with relatives, helping them care for their house, kids, businesses, then moving on.

Alfonso said Barry kept photos of Trisha and Melissa with him. He never stopped searching and hoping.

- - -

A constant in Barry's nomadic life was water.

"He needed to be near it," Alfonso said.

It was a craving. Water centered him. So it wasn't a surprise he quickly scouted out his spot at the lake.

"He called it his 'happy place,'" Alfonso said.

There was enough tree cover to nestle in by the water, to shut out the road behind him, to escape and meditate. The day before he died, a neighbor gave him cash for repairing a door, Alfonso said. She said Barry never asked for money. But when he got it, he often used it for liquor. His relatives had a strict no alcohol policy at the house and he got caught drinking. Alfonso said she believes he rode over to the lake to finish off what he had left. He suffered from seizures and alcohol made it worse, she said. She believes he must have been close to the edge of the water and had a seizure and rolled into the lake.

Times researchers Caryn Baird and Will Gorham contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

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