James Kenneth Bryant, a Florida homeless man whose life found new meaning when he began greeting people while dressed as Santa Claus, was killed Monday by a passing car as he crossed a road in Hudson, a small suburb of Tampa-St. Petersburg on Florida’s west coast.
Bryant, 49, had become known as “Homeless Santa” in recent months after he started donning his Santa suit, positioning himself by the side of various streets and waving merrily to motorists as they drove by.
“The little kids, they stick their faces in the windows and it brings a tear to your eyes,” Bryant told a reporter in a recent interview. “They’re like, ‘Hi Santa!” Little old ladies drop off big batches of cookies. For the past week, everybody has been taking photos.”
Bryant had lost his wife to cancer, and then his beloved dog, which he had described as the only thing keeping him going, mysteriously vanished last year. When the local media ran stories about Bryant, members of the local community banded together and found the missing dog.
But shortly after the animal’s joyful reunion with Bryant, the dog vanished again.
Bryant kept right on going, however, and in his Santa suit he found a new joy in life.
“Looking at the little kids and (saying), I know you, you be good for goodness sake. That’s more important than anything else,” Bryant told the Tampa Tribune.
Tragically, that happiness, and Bryant’s whole life, all came to a close Monday night at about 9 p.m., when while walking along his favorite road to wave at cars along U.S. Route 19 in Hudson, one of those cars struck and killed him.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Bryant was walking west on U.S. 19 when he attempted to cross the road and was run down by a 2000 Toyota Avalon.
The FHP named 27-year-old Nicholas Giovinazzi of Wesley Chapel, Florida, as the driver of the Toyota responsible for striking the “Homeless Santa,” though the FHO said that Bryant was not clad in the distinctive red and white Santa Claus outfit at the time he was killed.
While the FHP said that charges will be filed against Giovinazzi, they did not specify exactly what those charges would be. But the FHP said that alcohol was not a factor in the tragic accident.
Shortly before he was killed, James Kenneth Bryant suddenly dropped out of a local drug and alcohol rehabilitation program that, according to program managers, had kept Bryant free of substance abuse for at least six months.