Friends described Joan Rice Horne as a gentle soul who provided a loving home for cats and was an accomplished photographer.
Joan Rice Horne had her share of problems, but she didn’t deserve to die the way she did, said her friend, Lisa Slone.
Horne, 62, was struck by a vehicle and killed just before 6 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 8, when she and another friend tried to cross West Colonial Drive near the entrance to the Hyde Park senior community in Winter Garden.
They both were pushing bicycles with an attached trailer.
Capt. Scott Allen of the Winter Garden Police Department said the friend was not injured and the driver was taken to the hospital with minor injuries. He has not been charged, he said.
Allen said the two were not crossing in an area with a pedestrian crosswalk. There are crosswalks at Colonial and Park Avenue, as well as at Colonial and Avalon Road/County Road 545; Allen said they were within one quarter of a mile to the east or the west of having access to a safe crossing area.
The traffic homicide investigation continues, he said.
A majority of the crashes that happen along that stretch of road are at the intersections of Park Avenue and West Colonial Drive and Avalon Road and Colonial, Allen said.
In the last four years, three or four incidents involved a driver and a person walking or biking, he said. The most recent was last year when a school crossing guard was pinned under a vehicle and severely injured. She still is recovering today.
Robin Clark has lived for 16 years in Westside Townhomes on the south side of Colonial, near the crash site where Horne was killed, and said she has seen her fair share of crashes.
“The traffic is horrific in that stretch between Park and Avalon, and there have been multiple accidents and deaths there in recent years,” Clark said. “I have contacted the police department multiple times about traffic.”
She worries about the increased traffic generated by the new Goodwill store across from Hyde Park and is concerned there will be even more when a new car wash opens in the shuttered gas station in front of her neighborhood.
Clark has called the mayor and her city commissioner, and she spoke with the city manager.
“I even met with the new police chief and asked him to please help over in this area and especially with Westside Townhomes,” she said.
“We have people who pass our school buses when they’re in here to pick up our children,” she said. “We have the bike lane out there too, and there is a lot of foot traffic out here,” Clark said. “It’s a working man’s neighborhood, and I am so scared for the people around here. I really am. … I think we need more officers. … There needs to be more enforcement. There needs to be a crosswalk. … I have tried all sorts of avenues to try to get some change.
“I’m not here to be right,” she said. “I’m here to help make things right. … There are people being killed and people being maimed out here.”
Slone was working at a nearby florist when she met Horne, who frequently hung around outside. They connected over their love of cats.
“I cared about her very much,” Slone said. “She had a hard time. … She was just a gentle soul. I felt sorry for her.”
Horne shared stories of her cat, Squeakers, and Slone offered to have the cat spayed.
“For the circumstances she was still a happy person,” she said of Horne. “I think that was what struck me about her — what a loving person.”
Before she died, she had taken in two more cats.
Scott Billue, founder of the 10-year-old Matthew’s Hope homeless ministry, said the organization tried repeatedly to help Horne.
“One of her challenges of why she stayed homeless was she loved kittens,” he said. “And every time she was able to get into housing, it was required that she couldn’t bring her kittens with her. She chose to stay in the woods. … She got known for taking people’s kittens if they didn’t want them or they found them and couldn’t take care of them.”
Billue described Horne as a gifted photographer.
“She actually had an Etsy account, and people bought her photography,” he said. “Her photography was beautiful; she really had a good eye. “
She struggled after the death of her husband, Jack, two years ago, Billue said. They had been married just two years.
She lived in an area behind the Circle K convenience store at Colonial and Avalon, not too far from where she was killed.
“She kept the camp very clean, very homey,” he said. “It has a living area, it has a kitchen, it has an area for her kitties. It was sectioned off, so it was more sanitary and clean. They have a shower setup out there with rain barrels — it’s genius.
“Joan was one of those people who was a little more particular than others in trying to keep her hygiene up,” Billue said.
“When you walked into her area, she would say, ‘Welcome to my home.’ She would sweep and rake her area — it’s as if someone had freshly vacuumed their carpet, you know how it leave the lines.”
Horne had been associated with Matthew’s Hope for 10 years.
“Joan had become a lot more humble in the last six months, since COVID-19,” Billue said. “She was very grateful for us. She looked forward to our visits.”
Horne celebrated her 62nd birthday a few months ago and was thrilled when Matthew’s Hope volunteers took her a small gift, card, balloon and flowers.
“She was really taken back,” Billue said. “That’s probably the biggest smile I’ve seen in 10 years.”
Horne had a severe heart condition and needed assistance walking, he said.
“Sometimes she would take that (bike and trailer) to go grocery shopping, and she would use that to go scrapping to make a few extra dollars,” he said. “My guess is the reason she was out so early was because she was scrapping. They try to do it when no one is paying attention, when they don’t draw attention to themselves.”
“I don’t know what happened that morning,” Slone said. “She’s crossed that road hundreds of times. … I still can’t believe it was her. She was such a sweetheart.”
To make a monetary donation for the care of Horne’s three cats, text MHM to 41444; visit matthewshopeministries.org; or stop by the office at 611 Business Park Blvd., Suite 101, in Winter Garden. People also can order cat food on Amazon and have it sent to Matthew’s Hope.