‘Well done and thank you.’ Public donates to homeless man who helped Columbia officer

Touched by a homeless man’s willingness to risk injury to help a Columbia police officer, people are offering the man money, gifts and maybe even a job.

But all the attention is putting strains on his recovery from alcoholism, according to the woman who oversees programs at Transitions, the homeless center where Cray Turmon is living.

“It’s very overwhelming when you get all this attention — especially around the holidays — when you’re an alcoholic,” Lauren Wilkie, of the downtown center for homeless adults, said Friday.

The acts of kindness include donations of an iPad, a year’s membership to the State Museum, cash and two online GoFundMe accounts.

“Well done and thank you,” wrote Tim Varvel on one of the GoFundMe pages after donating $25. “You just made the world a better place to live.”

“Thank you, Mr. Turmon, for coming to the aid of the police officer,” wrote Fernando Martinez, who contributed $25. “May God bless you and your family, and I hope you can get back on your feet.”

A $25 donation came from Gus Philpott of Columbia, a former police officer in Colorado and candidate for sheriff in northern Illinois.

By mid-afternoon Friday, donors, some of them anonymous, had pledged $4,165, well exceeding the $1,000 goal set for one of the pages. A second account had $650.

Turmon, 49, became well known Tuesday because of a bystander video of him tackling Donald Songster Brown, who was refusing commands from Columbia police officer Ashley Hardesty in the parking lot of a BP gas station near Transitions. Hardesty shocked Brown with a stun gun and pepper sprayed him, yet Brown continued to resist.

Brown had punched one of the women who work at the station and threatened others there with a knife, police said. He also would not let the women out of the small store and wouldn’t leave the property, according to police, who charged him with attempted murder and kidnapping.

Turmon’s action, which he said was instinctive, led to him being called a hero by police Chief Skip Holbrook. Holbrook also gave him Walmart gift cards. Media attention also trained on Turmon.

Transitions has set up its own account to help Turmon, and Wilkie is advising anyone who donates to GoFundMe accounts that there’s no guarantee the money will get to him.

Transitions has a secured account that is managed as a savings account for its clients. Turmon will be able to draw from his account to pay rent when he’s ready to move into his own place, or, as he’s requested Friday, to start buying welding tools for when he returns to his trade.

Wilkie said that Transitions is expecting about $1,000 in contributions to Turmon’s account based on calls of support the center already had received by Friday morning.

Turmon told The State newspaper he wants donations to go through Transitions.

But well-intentioned people are approaching him directly or through Facebook messages. “People I don’t even know,” he said. “I’m trying to stay humble.”

Friday morning, a woman who works at a local hospital drove to Transitions and handed Turmon an iPad while he was in the parking lot. The same woman, who wants to remain anonymous and declined to be interviewed by a reporter, helped Turmon get a job interview.

He has two job interviews scheduled for Friday afternoon, including one at a restaurant owned by a member of the Transitions board, Wilkie said.

In another act of kindness, a man walked Wednesday into the The State newspaper’s lobby with two $10 bill for Turmon. The donor was directed to Transitions.

Turmon said he doesn’t want anyone to hand him money. “I don’t want handouts,” he said. “It’s all about me trying to work and earn my own money.”

Wilkie agreed. “For someone who’s in recovery, cash is going to hurt more than it’s going to help,” she said. “We will give him all the cash (in the account) when he’s ready.”

Turmon tried in September to complete Transitions’ program, but he failed, Wilkie said. However, he returned a few weeks later to try again.

“We’ll let you fail as many times as you need to until you’re ready to succeed,” Wilkie said of the program philosophy.

Turmon had a difficult night Thursday, she said without elaborating. But he met with her Friday morning to get help in managing his new-found fame.

“I’m behind her 110 percent,” Turmon said of the plan he and Wilkie worked out Friday to manage contributions.

Kia Usher, who owns an ice cream store in Cayce along with her husband, Eric Usher, set up the largest of the GoFundMe accounts. She is thrilled with the response.

“There’s always that fear that no one is going to donate,” Usher said when she started the fund with $50 of her own money. “Oh, my God. It really warms my heart here before Christmas. It makes you want to cry.”

The Ushers, both 34, have set up a South State Bank account for money that will go to Turmon. Now that contributions have blown past the $1,000 goal, “I feel like it would be selfish for me to cut it off ... when people still want to donate,” Kia Usher said.

However, on Friday afternoon she coordinated with Wilkie and decided to send all contributions to the Transitions fund. Usher’s GoFundMe account will remain active for as much as a month because social media exposure has brought donations from as far away as Oregon, Usher said.

Robin Parsons, who set up the other GoFundMe account, said she is coordinating with the GoFundMe company to send money Parsons raises to the same Transitions account.

Wilkie advised people who want to meet Turmon personally to clear it through Transitions, which is a private nonprofit operation. The center does not allow anyone to just walk in because its clients have privacy rights, she said.

Turmon, when asked what he planned to buy at Walmart, said, “It’s going to be whatever my girlfriend wants. She said we need some clothes.

“I’ve got the last word in the house,” he said, chuckling. “You know what the word is? ‘Yes, ma’am.’”

Help for Cray Turmon

If you want to donate online to Turmon, Transitions, where he lives, suggests using its “Phyllis Fund,” established for its clients.

To direct contributions to Turmon, write a note in the comment section that states “Phyllis Fund for Cray.”

Here is the address: https://transitionssc.org/donate

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