Walking commuter who got new car moves to safer home

James Robertson, shown at Schain Mold & Engineering in Rochester Hills on Jan. 29, 2015, faces major challenges in commuting. Since his story was told, donations have poured in to buy Robertson, 56, a car.

DETROIT — The man who stunned the world with Olympian walks to his suburban factory job — and stunned himself by attracting gifts of a new car and $350,000 in donations — abruptly moved Tuesday to a location he felt was safer, police said.

James Robertson, 56, was helped by Detroit police to move just minutes after crime-prevention specialists offered him temporary living quarters, Detroit police Capt. Aric Tosqui said.

“We had a meeting with him (and) he expressed interest that he did not feel safe,” said Tosqui, commanding officer of the 3rd Precinct.

A swirl of publicity grew around Robertson and his windfall last week after the Free Press told of his 21 miles of walking and two bus rides in daily commutes to and from a job where he has had years of perfect attendance.

“People were actually asking him for money,” 2nd Deputy Chief June West said. Robertson has yet to receive any of the cash, raised in just a week of Internet donations to a GoFundMe.Com page, according to page creator Evan Leedy.

Robertson and Leedy, 19, are to meet within a week with financial advisers to discuss how the money is to be managed for Robertson’s benefit, Leedy said.

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“He’s a diamond in the rough in terms of what happened to him,” Tosqui said.

Driving Robertson’s decision was news that last week Detroit police arrested a man charged in the killing of an 86-year-old Detroiter who disappeared in December, three days after the elderly man was said to have won $20,000 in a lottery game, police said.

“He knew about that story, and I also know about an incident in the 1st Precinct where a gentleman was killed after he allegedly won some money,” Tosqui said. “In those two examples, no one approached the department. But if somebody won the lottery tomorrow and contacted us, we would look at the situation in the same way and see what we could do,” he said.

After the move, Robertson said, “I wanted to get it over with — there were so many factors involved” about potential risks to his safety and the need to safeguard his new car. He said he was relieved to be out of the rooming house where he’d lived for more than 15 years, and relieved to be away from his landlady — the woman he’d long called his girlfriend — because “the issue was, she liked to control everyone and everything.”.

After setting up Tuesday’s meeting with Robertson, Tosqui said he contacted a local businessman and asked whether he had an empty apartment that he could make available for Robertson, at no cost “for a few days,” while the native Detroiter decides where he wants to live permanently.

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“There’s people in the community who were sympathetic,” Tosqui said.

Robertson said he’d stay in his new residence for no more than about a week while he seeks long-term housing, probably at a site closer to his job that for years has been 23 miles away, near M-59 and Crooks Road. He said he was thinking of moving to Oakland County, possibly Troy.

“Don’t get me wrong. It’ll be hard to leave the city that I love” — Detroit, he said.

Robertson, who received a 2015 loaded Ford Taurus last week, was allowed to park the $35,000 car in the precinct’s parking lot Monday night, Tosqui said. The meeting and parking arrangement were arranged by Robertson’s friend, UBS banker Blake Pollock.

Robertson’s decision to move came after he confided that he was concerned about his safety, and that some of the other residents at the boardinghouse where he lived wanted a share of his windfall and threatened Robertson with violence, said Pollock, 47, of Rochester, who befriended the intrepid commuter.

“The biggest thing for me is that nobody had to talk him into moving,” Pollock said. When police told Robertson that the apartment was available, “He just said, ‘Let’s do it,'” said Pollock.

The two met last year when Pollock, in his 2014 Chrysler 300, on an impulse, offered a ride to the man he’d seen countless times walking long miles in bad weather on Crooks Road in Troy and Rochester Hills.

Since then, the bank vice president said he has given Robertson scores of rides and they’ve become friends.

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In Robertson’s meeting with police, Pollock said, “They had four officers talking to him, warning him about his situation, (and then) five officers with garbage bags went to his house” to remove Robertson’s belongings from the second-story apartment for which the molding-machine operator paid $220 a week in rent for years, Pollock said.

Robertson has said he earns $10.55 per hour, netting $317 per week after taxes and other deductions.

Robertson did not call it rent when he said he regularly gave money to the listed owner of the house, Tayna Fox, 60, whom Robertson repeatedly has said was “my girlfriend,” although the two did not live in the same unit.

He lived upstairs, Fox lived downstairs, but she said last week, “I’m his lady — we’ve been together 15 years.”.

Fox told police who arrived at the house Tuesday that Robertson wasn’t home, Pollock said.

Reached Tuesday at her hairdresser, Fox said, “We’re still together” even though Robertson had moved and did not give her his new address, she said.

Robertson has said that also living at the house were Fox’s ex-husband; her son, 34, and another man.

Shortly after police helped Robertson to move from Detroit’s North End neighborhood to the New Center area, he drove his car to his job in Rochester Hills, having declined the invitation of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to attend Tuesday night’s State of the City speech because “it would interfere with my work — that’s just me.”.