Jaclyn Hood was 13 years old when she first met Thomas Birt.
She had just started working at her uncle’s restaurant, David’s Real Pit BBQ, located at 5121 NW 39th Ave. Thomas Birt, known to most as “Tommy,” stopped by almost every day as early as 5 a.m., said Hood, now 32. He’d come to pick up trash outside for a cup of coffee or piece of bread.
Now, Hood and hundreds of others won’t see the 52-year-old man walk his daily route on Northwest 39th Avenue and Northwest 43rd Street. No one will see his familiar face, the peace sign he’d cast high toward the sky or his wide grin.
Tommy died Thursday night after being struck by a car at the intersection of Northwest 39th Avenue and Northwest 48th Terrace.
Michelle Lisk, 34, was driving eastbound on Northwest 39th Avenue in her Acura MDX and changed into the right lane as Tommy crossed the street, according to Florida Highway Patrol press release. Lisk crashed into Tommy, and he was pronounced dead on scene. FHP said it is still investigating the crash.
Lisk could not immediately be reached for comment.
Although some also called Tommy “Chainsaw,” Hood said he hated the nickname. It was clear Tommy had a mental illness and didn’t have a stable home life, but he was always just trying to be funny and make people smile, Hood said.
“Tommy was just a fixture in Gainesville,” she said. “The world’s a slightly less good place without him in it yelling, ‘God bless you’ and waving when you passed him on the side of the road.”
Tom Dorn remembers Tommy’s jokes the most.
Almost every day since the early ‘80s, Tommy visited Dorn’s shop, Dorn’s Liquors & Wine Warehouse, located at 4140 NW 16th Blvd. He’d walk in with the same joke almost every time, Dorn said.
“Hey, guess what? Chicken butt.”
Dorn never served him liquor or let nearby bars give him any, but shared bits of the store’s cheese and drove him to his brother’s house if they ever found him out on the road late at night.
“We watched out for him,” Dorn said. “Obviously he had challenges, but all in all one of the nicest, (most) respectful people I’ve known.”
Brian Hood remembers the sirens Thursday night.
The owner of David’s BBQ was at home near his restaurant when Tommy was hit. He got a call minutes after the sirens left that Tommy, the man who’d visit his restaurant almost daily since it opened in 1988, had died.
Brian, 60, said he prays for Lisk, who has to live with Tommy’s death for the rest of her life. Tommy should be remembered for his spirit, he said.
“He was living the Hakuna Matata life, he had a life of no worries,” he said. “Everything pretty much rolled off.”