'Man of minimal needs:' Longwood volunteer devoted his life to helping others

Stewart Lashley died Monday on his way 'to do what he does best'

LONGWOOD, Fla. – Stewart Lashley rode his bicycle every day for miles, whether it was on his way to The Christian Sharing Center in Longwood, to pick up a bike part that would help get someone back on their feet or to see his granddaughter's basketball games.

Lashley, whose friends and family said he chose to live a life without many materialist luxuries, died Monday afternoon when he was struck and killed by a SunRail train.

The 70-year-old was well known around the Longwood and Lake Mary areas and will be missed by many, Lashley's daughter, Heather Lashley Lyng, said.

"He was a man of minimal needs," she said, adding that Lashley had a storage unit and lived in the woods of Longwood.

Lyng said her father was on his way home Monday from Olde Towne Cyclery after picking up a bike part when he was hit. Lashley volunteered as a bike mechanic at the Christian Sharing Center in Longwood where he could be found just about every day fixing up a bicycle for someone who needed it.

The bike part was found not far from where Lashley died.

The Sharing Center's director of development, Mark Romagosa, estimates Lashley fixed up hundreds of bikes since July 2016. Lashley started out as a client at the Center and later moved into volunteering.

Last year, the Center served more than 16,000 people with basic needs, including shelter, food, clothing, and furniture.

People have come and gone during the 31 years the Center has been in operation, but Lashley got to know everyone he met, Romagosa said.

“He was just a simple guy who liked transportation via bikes,” Romagosa said.

Romagosa recalled many times when Lashley would pay for bike parts out of his own pocket and another time when a client needed a tent, so Lashley and a Center staff member went out and bought one for him.

Romagosa said Lashley was a man of God and gave what little he had to others, “probably to a fault.”

"He said it was his calling," Romagosa said. "It was in his bones. That's what he wanted."

Lyng, 35, explained that her father wasn't always the cycling man people have come to know. In 1974, Lashley was severely injured during a work accident. A forklift carrying a 4,000-pound pallet fell on him, leaving Lashley permanently disabled.

Stewart Lashley, 70, devoted his whole life to helping others, his daughter Heather Lashley Lyng said.

"I grew up with my dad being a disabled man, but that never stopped him," Lyng said. "He couldn't ride a bike until the early 2000s."

Another loss would inspire Lashley to shed material items, devote his life to God and help others.

Lashley's grandson, Justin, was born with muscular dystrophy and another genetic disease, Lyng said. Toward the end of his life, Justin was in hospice care for months and he died three years ago at the age of 13.

"Having everything that happened to my son pushed him to get back on his feet," Lyng said.

Lashley got on his bike and made it his mission to help others, never giving up.

Justin was like his grandfather in that way, Lyng said, describing their drive as a "beneficial stubborn."

"Digging your heels in and not giving up on them," Lyng said. "My son was the same way. Every person he touched he affected in a positive way."

Lyng said she is still shocked that her father is gone and also hurt by the things people have been saying online about Lashley, accusing him of being reckless "trying to beat the train," saying "he had headphones on," which can't be true, because she found the headphones in his storage unit Wednesday.

If Lashley had another five seconds, he might have made it, crash investigators told his daughter.

"He was headed back to his storage unit," Lyng said. "On his way to do what he does best."

Lyng's Colorado's Prime Steakhouse coworkers started a GoFundMe page for her family, including Lashley's 14-year-old granddaughter, that will help pay for burial expenses and hopefully give the single mother the ability to take a day off from her serving job to grieve. 

Lyng asked that people donate items to the Christian Sharing Center in his name. That's what Lyng plans to do with most of her father's belongings in his storage unit.