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2002: The Year in Review

This all happened -- really

The frequent protestation of a certain comic columnist, 'I'm not making this stuff up!' certainly applies to many of the bizarre events that occurred in Citrus County in 2002.

By GREG HAMILTON, Citrus Times Editor of Editorials

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 29, 2002


What can you say about a year that included a police chief losing his job over a lunch order, a mother arrested for performing nude jumping jacks and other interesting feats at her daughter's party, an animal control director fired for shooting a cat out of a tree, and vultures taking over a neighborhood other than: "Bring it on!"

January

HE'LL TAKE THAT ORDER TO GO: The new year is only hours old when the Great Burger Battle erupts in Inverness. Police Chief Joe Elizarde is unable to get a couple of burgers at the Happy Dayz restaurant when he wants them, which leads to an argument with the eatery's owner. The police are called and the chief has his men arrest the owner. After weeks of furor, Elizarde, in what a city official calls "a bold move," quits his job.

JUST TIDYING UP A BIT: Chester Bradshaw admits he leveled a 225-foot long, 6-foot high berm on Potts Preserve using a bulldozer, but he insists all he did was right a 50-year wrong. A state official differs: "He may call it restoration, we're going to call it a crime."

PLUS, HE MISSED MYSTERY MEAT MONDAY AT THE DINING HALL: Robert Fremer forces police to arrest him by stealing beer from a Circle K in Floral City. Fremer says jail is his home, and the only place he can get his medication.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN RIDE AGAIN: Crystal River City Manager Phil Lilly proposes a citizens posse to ride around town checking for code violations.

FORGET SATAN, BAN THE LAWYERS: The ACLU threatens to sue Inglis if it doesn't repeal an ordinance championed by Mayor Carolyn Risher banning Satan from the small town.

ON THE ROAD WITH A LOAD: Jack Simmons' trailer carrying 42,000 pounds of half-gallon jugs of apple juice is stolen from alongside State Road 200. Police arrest Sean O'Brien, who tells them he stole it because he was drunk when he drove past two police cars in his rig and he figured that he would attract less attention if he had a trailer attached.

IF YOUR STORE IS ON FIRE, CALL THE DOG CATCHER: Floral City fire chief Floyd Bedford is banned from a convenience store after the owner starts a petition calling for his removal as chief. In turn, store owner Sue Moessinger is barred from the fire station.

February

SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS, ELEMENTARY DIVISION: Rita Lefke complains that a teacher took her son's desk away from him at Lecanto Primary School, making the fifth-grader spend four months sitting on the floor and carrying his belongings around in a milk crate.

AND FOR THE LOSERS, A SEAT IN A GEORGE FOREMAN GRILL: Ismael Moreno calls it a hobby, but Crystal River police call it illegal cockfighting operation. Moreno has a plywood-enclosed ring surrounded by chairs and dozens of roosters locked in cages.

PROOF THAT APPLE JUICE ROTS YOUR BRAIN: Sean O'Brien, charged in the theft of 42,000 pounds of apple juice (see item above), is charged with a string of burglaries he allegedly committed while out of jail. O'Brien is accused of taking a bearskin run, an outboard motor, a barbecue grill, a clock, a VCR and a shotgun.

I SAID PUNCH THE COUPON, NOT MY WIFE: Betty Anderson tries to redeem a coupon for brunch at the Crown Hotel, but co-owner P.C. Hyland refuses to honor it and, after some heated words, slaps the 66-year-old woman in the face.

March

THE DEVIL MADE THEM DO IT: Someone steals the wooden posts at the four entrances to Inglis that bear the words "repent, request and resist" that are part of Mayor Risher's efforts to drive Satan from the small town. A local pastor promises to replace them.

DINING ON A STREET-VALUE MEAL: William Carlton, handcuffed after being stopped in Crystal River for speeding, kicks a deputy and starts eating a bag of white powder that deputies had found in his Jeep.

THE ESCAPEE HAS PRISON STRIPES, FOUR LEGS AND A BAD ATTITUDE: Casey the pit bull terrier, being held at the Citrus County Animal Control shelter after lunging at a deputy, is on the loose after someone using bolt cutters slices through a lock and sets him free.

NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED: More than 200 teens from local churches swarm streets around Citrus County for a day of random acts of kindness, handing out free sodas and bottled water to surprised motorists at intersections. The acts end when Inverness police threaten to arrest them for walking into traffic.

HEY, FELLAS, THAT'S NOT HOW YOU PLAY ON THE SEE-SAW: Crystal River recruits a team of volunteers to patrol Yeoman's Park, which had been closed because some residents complained that visitors were using the park for illicit sexual activities.

April

GOLF BALLS THE SIZE OF HAIL: The Interact Club, an arm of the Rotary Club of Inverness, holds a fundraiser by dropping 200 golf balls from a medical helicopter over an Inverness golf course. Participants pay $5 for a ball and the closest ball to the pin wins.

WHY DO YOU THINK THEY CALL IT DOPE? Jeffrey Marksteiner tests his new cell phone by dialing 911. He hangs up, and deputies are sent to his Homosassa home to check out the 911 hangup. He tells them all is well but they are required to make sure and while looking around the house, they find a glass pipe, a bag containing a leafy substance, and a marijuana plant growing in a closet.

HIS DEFENSE: THE CAT DARED HIM: Animal Control director Hank Baggett gets a feral cat out of a tall pine tree by shooting it with a rifle. After a storm of controversy, Baggett is fired, not for shooting the stray but for not reporting the incident properly.

RATS, I LEFT MY VIAGRA AT HOME: William Johnson complains to police that a woman he picked up and drove into the woods intending to pay her for sex insisted that he pay her even though he could not complete the act. The 79-year-old man says the woman struck him in the head, stole his wallet and drove off in his van.

May

GIVE 'EM AN INCH, THEY'LL TAKE FOUR: Inverness City Council refuses to grant an easement to Walgreen's on a retaining wall that intrudes 4 inches onto city property. The city insists the wall be torn down and rebuilt.

NEXT ON JERRY SPRINGER -- MOMS GONE WILD: A 27-year-old Hernando mother is arrested after hosting a party for her daughter's dance school classmates, ages 9-13, during which she led a game of Truth or Dare that included performing nude jumping jacks, simulating oral sex on a soda bottle, French kissing a television screen and lap dancing.

TWO COPS, PASSING IN THE NIGHT: Kevin Phillips, a former Inverness police officer who once filed a workers' comp claim after running over himself with his police car and now is wanted on a number of warrants, eludes police for months. Then he walks into a store in Kissimmee and passes Inverness police Chief Lee Alexander, who was out for dinner with his family. Alexander shakes Phillips' hand and places him under arrest.

June

MORE PROOF THAT CHICKS DIG THE LONG BALL: Bobby Barton emerges from the first base dugout, April Lewis strides purposefully from the third base side. They meet at home plate, and are pronounced husband and wife at Whispering Pines Park in Inverness. Instead of a reception, the guests change outfits and play a game of softball.

SO THIS IS HOW AIRPORT SECURITY GUARDS TRAIN: Sheriff's deputies respond to the Kash n'Karry store in Homosassa when employees report a suitcase has been left in an aisle. Deputies, fearing a bomb, evacuate the store and grow anxious when an X-ray shows a gun inside the case. The "gun" turns out to be a pricing tool left behind by a vendor.

HE BLAMED HIS TRUCK, A DODGE RAM: Hugh McMahon, tired of waiting in line at a bank in Homosassa, begins ramming his van into the car in front of him. McMahon strikes the car three times before driving off. Deputies find the 70-year-old McMahon and he readily admits his offense, blaming the girl in the car for taking too long.

SECOND CHOICE WAS SPONGE BOB SQUARE PANTS: Crystal River City Council debates for hours on whether the police should use the same logo as the other city departments, one featuring a smiling manatee. The police logo features a shield.

HOLY GULLYWASHER, BATMAN! THE BATS ARE TRAPPED: Rescuers from state agencies, joined by Boy Scouts, race to free thousands of fruit bats trapped in a cave in the Withlacoochee State Forest. Recent rains had silted in the entrance to the vital bat nursery cave.

July

SHE WAS PART OF AN INMATE RELEASE PROGRAM: Deritha Barth avoids a jail term in a plea bargain on charges that she had sex with a 19-year-old inmate at the Cypress Creek Academy detention center in Lecanto. Barth was a corrections officer at the center when she and the inmate were found in his bed, both with their pants down. At her sentencing, Circuit Judge Ric Howard asks her, "What were you thinking?"

OH YEAH? DO THEY HAVE A POP-SICLE NAMED FOR THEM? A proposal to rename the post office in Hernando for the late baseball slugger Ted Williams is met with grumbling from several old-line families who believe their ancestors' legacies trump that of Williams.

August

SPECIAL OPS, CRYSTAL RIVER STYLE: Crystal River City Manager Lilly rescinds his request for permission from the council to attend a special two-week course in firearms, high-speed chases and defense tactics.

BY UNANIMOUS VOTE, A FIELD TRIP IS APPROVED: Crystal River Council members are surprised at a new business in town, the Bears Den, which features sex aids and adult videos.

ARE THEY COPS OR ZOOKEEPERS?: Crystal River police will get new dark blue uniforms and a new patch that features animals from the Nature Coast, including an egret, a deer, a panther, a manatee and an alligator. Gone is the bass, which some say looks like a frog. "People ask, why do you have a frog on your uniform?" police Chief Jim Farley says. "We'd say, it's not a frog, it's a bass."

September

DON'T BOTHER TO SEND A POSTCARD: After an eventful year featuring bank foreclosure, a fire, slapping customers, numerous calls to police, mass firing of employees and kicking out a service organization, the owners of the Crown Hotel leave "on vacation," taking with them the hotel's comforters, steaks, even the security cameras. They have yet to return.

AH, STATESMANSHIP!: Local Democratic party officials squabble after chairman Joe Cino says the Democratic candidate for the state House will be "squashed like a worm" by Republican Charles Dean. Cino calls his critics "a bunch of crybaby left-wing liberals."

DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF JEALOUSY: Police accuse Misty Dawn Perkins of driving into her boyfriend in Homosassa because he talked to another woman.

MOM WAS HOLDING OUT FOR A SMALLER RANSOM: A Citrus couple is charged with extortion after they tried to get money by claiming the woman had been kidnapped. Kelley Lamach told her mother that her husband, Raymond, would hurt her if she didn't give her $350.

THE ONLY TURKEY IS BEHIND THE WHEEL: A Homosassa man is charged with cruelty to animals when deputies say he ran over some guinea hens while riding in a pickup truck. He told police that it's his birthday, he has been drinking, he thought the hens were turkeys, and he wanted to eat one for his birthday dinner.

October

ISN'T THIS HOW SCI-FI THRILLERS GET STARTED?: Inventor Richard Gray announces he will pour millions of muck-eating micro-organisms into Cooter Pond in Inverness to slurp up the sludge that has been collecting in the 27-acre waterway for decades.

HE NEEDED MORE FOR HIS FRONT LAWN: Former state trooper Harvey Waite is stopped by police in Spring Hill and accused of stealing campaign signs for U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman, who is being challenged by Waite's wife, State Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite. Thurman declines to press charges.

November

WHY NOT JUST ATTACH A BUNGEE CORD TO THE PLANE?: Thomas Owens of Crystal River celebrates his 60th birthday by taking 60 parachute jumps over Crystal River Airport.

WANT SOME APPLE JUICE TO WASH THAT DOWN?: Wesley Dunn of Citrus Springs is charged with breaking into a home and stealing a rifle, $215 and a box of Pop-Tarts. He told police he needed the gun for protection and the Pop-Tarts because he was hungry.

BETTER THAN A GIDEON BIBLE: A couple check into a room at the Florida Motel in Inverness and find a green bank bag in a dresser. Inside is $5,700 in cash, a leather address book and a number of business cards. The man who stayed in the room the night before is later arrested on drug charges.

INGLIS MAYOR ASKS, WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT?: Woodland Estates residents, besieged by hundreds of hungry vultures, ask Crystal River officials for help. The city tells police to shoot the buzzards, but the plan later changes to hanging dead vultures upside down in the nearby woods to scare off the others.

December

TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE: After being called a "weenie" by fellow county Commissioner Jim Fowler, Gary Bartell and his wife, Joanne, organize the Great Homosassa Weenie Roast as a fundraiser to help needy children.

SORRY, NO BARBECUING IN THE COURTROOM: Kevin Perry of Beverly Hills was in the courtroom at the Citrus County Courthouse when he kneeled in the aisle, made the sign of the cross then pulled a container of lighter fluid and a lighter from his knapsack. Bailiffs grabbed him before he could set a fire.

JUST DON'T GIVE HIM LUNCHROOM DUTY: Former Inverness police Chief Elizarde is hired as a science teacher at Citrus High School.

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