Jun 23, 2010 3 Comments ›› Pat Dollard
FORT WORTH, Texas – Bruce Florence’s family was his motivation for working hard.
For more than a decade, he was a regular sight at the Walmart in Westworth Village, greeting customers, ringing up purchases and stocking merchandise, his wife, Cathey Florence, said.
He also frequently worked a second job to further provide for her and their 14-year-old daughter, Kelsey Bernae Florence.
“He didn’t want his daughter to go without anything,” Florence said. “Life was about her. He wanted her to go to college. He wanted her to be somebody.”
But on June 14, Bruce Florence was knocked to the ground when he tried to stop a man who was trying to walk out without paying for a $348 TV. Florence was hospitalized with a head injury until he died on Father’s Day.
“Bruce was a good man who left behind a loving family and good friends,” said Darrell Bartell, a Walmart co-worker. “He didn’t die defending his country or saving someone’s life. He died because a coward wanted a television set.”
William Alan Kennedy, 37, of Fort Worth, was already in the Tarrant County Jail, charged with aggravated robbery in the Westworth Village case. He is a suspect in six similar Fort Worth thefts, police have said.
The Tarrant Count medical examiner’s office has not yet ruled on the cause and manner of Florence’s death. If it is ruled a homicide, Westworth Village police say, it will be up to the Tarrant County district attorney’s office whether new charges are filed against Kennedy.
“If the police present us with additional facts, then we will consider additional charges at that time,” Assistant District Attorney Kevin Rousseau said Tuesday.
About 2 p.m. June 14, Bruce Florence, working in the lawn and garden department, spotted a man carrying a 26-inch Vizio television and heading toward the exit.
Florence stepped in front of the man, but he barreled right over him, dropping the TV in the process, Westworth Village police Detective John Moore said.
“It was kind of like a football player where you bull rush somebody,” Moore said.
The man ran out the door and got into a waiting white sport utility vehicle, whose driver has still not been identified.
That night, Kennedy was arrested by officers looking for a suspect in a similar shoplifting case that occurred June 10 at the Walmart at 3851 Airport Freeway in Fort Worth. Lt. Paul Henderson, a Fort Worth police spokesman, said a Walmart employee got the license tag number of the white SUV used as a getaway vehicle, and investigators determined it had been rented by Kennedy, he said.
Kennedy is a suspect in five similar Fort Worth thefts, four involving Walmarts, Detective Leslie McGee said.
Kennedy was in the Tarrant County Jail on Tuesday night with bail set at $55,000. He has been charged in one of the Fort Worth shoplifting cases and on the Westworth Village aggravated robbery charge.
Tarrant County court records show he has previous convictions for theft, evading arrest and possession of a controlled substance.
Cathey Florence said that her husband had been awaiting a liver transplant, but he had been able to work at Walmart and serve as a deacon at his church.
While in the hospital, he remained conscious and talking, she said.
“They told me they had got the bleeding (in his brain) and everything under control,” she said.
But on Thursday, Cathey Florence said, she arrived to find her husband with a runny nose and slurring his words.
“He was up walking. I said, You need to put your shoes on. You’re going to catch a cold. It looks like you’re getting sick,’ ” Cathey Florence said. “He said, I’ll be all right. I’ll probably be coming home this week,’ but it never happened.”
By Friday, Bruce Florence wasn’t talking at all and was in what doctors called a “sleep mode” brought on by a high ammonia level, she said.
“I kept talking to him. I would put lotion on his feet and hands, talking to him and reading Scripture to him, but there was no response,” Cathey Florence said.
“On Sunday, the doctor came out and told us he wasn’t going to come out of this. It was just a matter of time before he would code.”
That night, just minutes before midnight, Bruce Florence was pronounced dead.
“We keep expecting him to walk through the door, but it’s not going to happen,” Cathey Florence said.
Hilda Ferris, manager of the Westworth Village Walmart, said Tuesday: “Our thoughts and prayers are with Bruce’s loved ones during this difficult time. We’ve lost a valued member of our family, and he will be missed.
“Bruce was an outstanding associate who never met a stranger; but, most importantly, he was our friend.”