The incident occurred around 10:30 a.m. on the Norfolk Southern track about 100 yards east of the Broadway Avenue crossing at Third and Fifth streets. According to Police Chief Chris Carden, witnesses said Leonard was passing between two train cars while the crossing arms were down at the nearest road intersection and the train was at a stop. The train began to move, and Leonard was struck and killed.
Talladega County Coroner Shaddix Murphy pronounced him dead at the scene at 11:20 a.m. The cause of death was multiple blunt force traumas, Murphy said.
Norfolk Southern is conducting its own investigation of the incident, but representatives declined to comment.
“This is a tragedy,” Carden said. “I have known him as Horace ‘Smiley’ Leonard since I was a kid. He will be missed by many people as he has become as much a part of Sylacauga as anything. Our hearts go out to the family.”
Leonard’s brother, James Leonard, said Friday afternoon that he “never would have thought (Horace) would go that way. The way I thought he would go is a car would hit him crossing the road.”
Smiley was widely recognized in the city for walking the downtown streets and frequenting local businesses and restaurants.
“As long as it was day, he’d constantly be going back and forth to town,” James Leonard said. “I know a lot of people knew him, because there were so many people that brought him home over the years.”
Most often, Smiley asked passersby for a cigarette, a dollar, or both, though he had everything he needed, his brother said.
“He had his own money, but he would still ask for it,” James Leonard said. “I tell you this though – he would give you the shirt off his back, and if he had money and you asked for it, he would give it to you. That’s just the way he was.”
Horace Leonard, who would have turned 68 on Oct. 5, formerly worked for Sylacauga Parks and Recreation and Shellcast Corporation before moving to Detroit, Mich., to work at General Motors sometime in the 60s or 70s, according to his sister Patricia Leonard. He returned to Sylacauga, where his family lives except for two brothers, in the early 80s as “a different person,” said his sister Betty Tuck.
“He had a productive life, more so before he went to Michigan,” she said. “He had cars and dressed well, and he could really draw.”
Since his return, Smiley – whose nickname originated from people in town who noticed he was always smiling, his family said – spent most of his days happily roaming the city streets. Patricia Leonard said they hope Smiley is “remembered the way he was – a person that always had a smile for everyone and would do anything for anybody.”
Tuck said some people would pass her brother by “because he would talk out of his head and nobody could understand him. But to me, God knows the heart of everybody, and we should be able to look at a person and say, ‘He’s a person.’ I’m really grateful that a lot of people in Sylacauga took the time to know him. It always made his day.”
Many reacted with shock and sadness as the news of Smiley’s passing spread Friday. Donna O’Neal, owner of O’Neals Barber Shop, where Horace Leonard could often be found sweeping hair or taking out trash, said her heart is broken.
“I reacted like he was part of my family, and really, he was,” she said. “I loved him. A lot of people never really got to know him, because he could be irrational with his yelling and carrying on, but if you ever got to know Smiley, you could talk to him just like an ordinary person.”
Mayor Doug Murphree remembered him as a “Sylacauga icon,” saying, “Everybody knew him, and he’s been around a long time. It was rare to come to town without passing him on the streets somewhere. We’ll miss seeing him.”
His siblings agreed it is hard to imagine their brother is truly gone.
“Right now, in this moment, I don’t see him as gone,” James Leonard said. “I know he’s gone, but I can’t see it.”
Patricia Leonard said she would surely catch herself looking out her window to see if Smiley is home at the end of the day.
“Every night, I look out that window, and if his light’s not on yet I know he’s still out,” she said. “I’ll check back later, and his bedroom light is on, and I’ll say, ‘OK, he made it home.’”
Horace Leonard is survived by sisters Betty Tuck, Patricia Leonard, Mary Tuck and Delois Wilson, and brothers James Leonard, Matthew Leonard, Clarence Leonard, Donnie Leonard, Roy Leonard and Jon Leonard, as well as a host of other relatives and friends. Funeral arrangements will be announced by Community Funeral Home.
Contact Emily Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.