Denny Wood, who spent decades fighting for the rights of the disabled after losing the use of his legs in an Ohio silo accident almost a half-century ago, was found dead of natural causes last week in the Palmetto Bay T-shirt shop where he lived, of an apparent heart attack.
He was found dead on a bed in the back room of a T-shirt shop he owned at 9855 E. Fern St., by a customer. Wood was 68.
Wood made a name for himself as an irascible defender of the disabled, whether it was blocking entrances that lacked disabled ramps while in his wheelchair, or several failed runs for public office.
“He had been pretty sick and hospitalized recently with heart trouble,” said Paul Kruger, a friend of Wood’s who lives in Interlachen, Fla., near Gainesville. “A lot of people misunderstood Denny. He kind of had a chip on his shoulder, but if you knew him, he had a really big heart.”
Wood was every bit a loner, so much so that more than a week after his Oct. 22 death, police continue to have trouble tracking down next of kin. In search of family members, Miami-Dade police have posted messages on a couple of Wood’s websites asking the public to call them with information.
In the meantime, Wood’s body remains in the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner’s Office. It will stay there until all leads are exhausted, at which time the county will cremate the body and bury him in the West Miami-Dade public cemetery.
Cantankerous and pesky, Wood didn’t believe in limits. His most recent attempt at public office was an August run for Miami-Dade mayor, where he finished well off the pace. But Kruger said Wood had “no expectation” of winning, and that “it was just a way to get his platform for the disabled heard.”
Wood was so far down the totem pole that he wasn’t invited to the table during several of the mayoral debates. Still, he’d wheel about outside the building complaining of structures that didn’t meet American With Disabilities Act requirements to those who would — and wouldn’t — listen.
Twice he has run for state legislative seats and lost. A popular face in Tallahassee for legislative sessions, Wood claimed to be instrumental in passing more than 20 Florida legislative bills.
Yet he had a darker side: He’d been arrested at least eight times since 1977, twice for writing bad checks. In two other instances he was arrested for pulling guns on people during disputes. Each time he received probation.
Over the years he’s railed against the South Dade Busway, and how difficult it was to cross U.S. 1. He also fought a funeral home on U.S. 1 over perceived violations of the ADA.
A profile on Wood that ran in The Miami Herald almost 14 years ago explained how he lost the use of both legs in a fall from atop a grain silo in Ohio in 1964 while he was attending Mennonite College. He came to Miami in 1969 after becoming a certified scuba diver.
At the time of The Herald story Wood had been dating a woman named Marcene Rigsby for five years. She spent time working with Wood in his T-shirt shop, and often accompanied him on missions up and down U.S. 1 in search of businesses not in compliance with ADA requirements. The two later separated. Thursday she chose not to comment on Wood’s death.
Police would like anyone with information, especially relating to Wood’s next of kin, to contact them at 305-471-2400.
Miami Herald Staff Writer David Ovalle contributed to this report.