My nominee for Savannah's Man of the Year has to be Mark Owen McLeod.
The 53-year-old native of Appling, Ga., was arrested in June and charged with stalking Miley Cyrus while she was on Tybee Island, filming The Last Song.
Tybee police said McLeod was hanging around the fringes of the set, "making inappropriate comments" to young girls gathered there. According to an official report, he told officers he was on the beach "to be with Miley" - he'd proposed to her, and she'd accepted, sending him secret messages through her Hannah Montana TV show - and he tried to head-butt one of them as they tried to remove him (in handcuffs) from the beach.
McLeod was arrested again in August, and his case was adjudicated in October ... but we'll get to that in a minute.
His first arrest was on Monday, June 22. This was after the Disney gang had been hearing about a creepy guy, saying creepy things, on the periphery for a couple of days.
Turn back your calendars. Because Cyrus was only 16, the Last Song company was not permitted to work on weekends. That means the cameras had last been running, the fans gathering, on Friday, June 19.
The day I was there.
On a whim - and frankly, hoping to get a story out of it - I had applied to work as an extra on the movie. I'd received the callback, and the instructions on what to wear, and dutifully appeared at the prescribed location that morning.
For the better part of 10 hours, I'd pretended to be a beach-goer, strolling through the background as Cyrus and her co-stars did their stuff, hundreds of yards away, in front of the camera. There were about 200 of us.
It was a very hot day, and I spent a half hour in the back of a paramedics' truck, being treated for mild heat stroke. Eventually I was deemed fit enough to return to work.
The was, to be sure, a bizarre experience. Great, I thought. I got my story.
Boy, was I wrong.
At around 10:30 that night, I was chosen (with another extra, whom I did not know) to move to the end of the pier, where Cyrus was filming a close-up scene. We were four or five feet from the actress. Our job was to walk quickly back-and-forth, directly in front of the camera, to create shadows (or something like that, we were never really sure).
After 45 minutes of this, a man approached me during a break and demanded to know my name, and what I was doing there. Identifying himself as Miley's personal security, he said that he'd heard I was making "untoward comments" about the young star. I said "Huh?"
I remember the word "untoward," but it may have been "inappropriate," the very word used by police to describe the comments made by the mysterious and soon-to-be-in custody Mark Owen McLeod.
The man disappeared down the pier, and I breathed a sigh of relief. We began to get our marching orders for the next scene.
Suddenly, he was there again, accompanied by two uniformed police officers. "Sir, these officers are going to escort you off the set," he told me. I think I sputtered like Ralph Kramden - homina, homina.
I was perp-walked down the pier, past many of my new friends from the extras cast, all of whom stared in disbelief. The officers would not speak to me.
Next I was handed over to another film-company security guy, who glared at me and refused to answer my (increasingly agitated) questions. "How hammered are you?" he finally asked, through clenched teeth.
I was put on the first charter bus back to the mainland and ordered not to A), cause a scene on the bus; B), attempt to get off the bus; or C), return to the set.
Otherwise, he barked, I would be arrested on the spot.
Surreal doesn't begin to describe it.
I wrote about this wacky adventure, in these very pages, shortly after it happened. Now, with hindsight I've used a bit of Sherlock Holmes-ian deduction to explain what I didn't know at the time.
Mark Owen McLeod had most likely been reported the day I was there, but nobody knew exactly what he looked like.
So I figure Miley's security chief was nervous, and looking out for any potential threat to his golden girl.
Why me? Well, I was within breathing room of her at the time I was "fingered." I guess I looked suspicious.
After my story was published in Connect, and the subsequent news about McLeod was broadcast, I thought perhaps I'd get a polite "sorry about that" from Disney, or a couple of free movie tickets. Something.
To date, I've yet to hear from anyone.
As for McLeod, he accepted a deal on Oct. 30, after pleading guilty to misdemeanors of obstruction of a police officer and disorderly conduct. A third charge of attempted stalking, also a misdemeanor, was dropped after a grand jury refused to indict him. A State Court judge sentenced him to two years' probation, and he was ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation.
McLeod was also legally banished from Chatham County.
Me, I'm still here. Waiting for my apology.
And yes, I got my story.
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