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Rocker stays invisible as publicity swirls

Officials cannot find Billy Tourtelot to serve court papers. He's getting other attention too.

CARRIE JOHNSON
Published October 2, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG - In the past few days, Billy Tourtelot has gone from the obscure leader of a little known heavy metal band to an international celebrity.

News organizations from Australia, England, Ireland and throughout the United States are clamoring for interviews with the 33-year-old shock rocker.

But here in St. Petersburg, no one can seem to find him.

"He's not hiding, but he seems to be very difficult to find," City Attorney John Wolfe said.

Wolfe is searching for Tourtelot to serve him with a notice to appear in court today. Circuit Judge John C. Lenderman is scheduled to rule on whether Tourtelot and the members of his band, Hell on Earth, can carry out their plan to feature a suicide during a concert Saturday.

Wolfe said the hearing will go on even if Tourtelot and the others don't show.

"We'll just tell the judge all the efforts we've gone to in an attempt to locate him," he said.

Meanwhile, local radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge Clem aired what he said was an exclusive interview with Tourtelot on Wednesday morning.

The interview was conducted by telephone and the voice of the person claiming to be Tourtelot occasionally was disguised. A call to the radio show's producer was not returned Wednesday.

A transcript of the interview was submitted by city attorneys to Judge Lenderman as evidence Tourtelot knows he is expected in court today.

"We have no reason to believe it wasn't (Tourtelot) speaking during the interview," said Chief Assistant City Attorney Mark Winn.

The interview provided more details about the planned suicide of a terminally ill person at the Saturday night concert. Tourtelot has said the act is a statement in support of euthanasia.

The performance will take place in two places, with the band performing in one location and the suicide at another, according to the interview. Both will be broadcast live on Hell on Earth's Web site.

"No one from the public can attend, for obvious reasons, because obviously we can't have that leaked out," Tourtelot told the radio station.

Tourtelot has not identified who is planning to commit suicide Saturday night. But a letter purportedly written by the person was posted on Bubba the Love Sponge's Web site.

The letter was dated Sept. 15. In it, a person describes suffering from a terminal illness that has become unbearable and says all medical treatments were exhausted.

"I shall sue anyone who tries to revive me before my passing against my wishes," the letter says. "In closing, I hope that everyone understands and respects my decision in this matter and hope one day that others in the same condition have a right to die with dignity."

The person's name was obscured by black ink.

On Monday, the City Council passed an ordinance making it illegal to conduct a suicide for commercial or entertainment purposes, or to host, promote or sell tickets for such an event.

Violating the city's ordinance could result in a 60-day jail sentence and a $500 fine. Florida law also makes it a second-degree felony to assist with a suicide, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Tourtelot told Bubba he is not afraid of arrest.

"If they want to spend and waste more of our taxpayers' money in St. Petersburg for a lawsuit that's going to be bigger than anything they've seen on the planet, and they want to fund the next Hell on Earth album, then go for it," Tourtelot said.

Tourtelot is the son of William C. Tourtelot, one of the city's most prominent real estate agents. The elder Tourtelot's company, Tourtelot Brothers, handles some of the area's most notable and expensive properties, including the home recently sold by former baseball player Dwight Gooden.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jeb Bush added his voice to the chorus of local officials who have condemned the band and the planned suicide.

"Whether it's a hoax, or a shameless way to garner publicity or a real threat, it breaks my heart to think about the wounds that are opened in Florida's families that have suffered with a loved one having committed suicide," Bush said. "Shame on the people for doing this."

The national attention focused on St. Petersburg hasn't focused solely on the members of Hell on Earth. Several City Council members have been interviewed about the controversy by national and international media outlets.

Council member Bill Foster, who is up for re-election Nov. 4, is scheduled to be on Good Morning America today. He also has granted interviews to the Fox News Channel, the British Broadcasting Corporation, and radio stations from Washington, D.C., San Francisco and West Palm Beach.

"With every interview I do, I'm really just trying to explain to people why we as a council did what we had to do," Foster said. "St. Petersburg is not the only city in the country with a deranged rock band. Other cities need to be aware."

- Times staff writer Adam C. Smith contributed to this report. Carrie Johnson can be reached at 727 892-2273 or cjohnson@sptimes.com

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