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Hurricane Charley

Captiva man refuses to leave

A Captiva Island caretaker says law enforcement is trying to starve him out. That's not the case, officials respond.

By CARRIE JOHNSON
Published August 17, 2004

When he heard the thump of helicopter blades, Scott St. John started climbing.

As he reached the roof of the Captiva Island mansion where he works as a caretaker, St. John held up a piece of silver cardboard spray-painted with a message: "SOS" on one side, "SEND ICE" on the other.

"I'm just trying to get the supplies I need," St. John said via a cell phone.

St. John, 43, one of the few residents who rode out Hurricane Charley on the slender barrier island, says sheriff's deputies and National Guardsmen are trying to force him to evacuate by threatening him with arrest.

"They told me they're just waiting for me to get hungry enough, thirsty enough or hot enough to get out of here," St. John said. "But the only way I'm leaving is in a body bag."

Authorities say the handyman is being melodramatic. They also say he's a pain in the neck.

"This area was devastated by the hurricane and it's not very accessible," said Lee County sheriff's Cpl. Larry King. "Emergency workers need to focus on doing their jobs, not rescuing Mr. St. John."

King said sheriff's deputies won't let St. John starve, but they do want him to stay out of the way. "He needs to stay on his property," King said. "Otherwise he's going to be escorted off the island."

Monday evening authorities still had not allowed residents back onto the island.

At least one person is pleased St. John is putting up a fight: David Venarge, the snowbird who owns the roughly 8,000-square-foot house at 15783 Captiva Drive.

Venarge said he asked St. John to look after his house before leaving for his home in Akron, Ohio. He said St. John already has saved him thousands of dollars by cleaning up the floors and repairing a window in the storm's wake.

"I'm thrilled he's down there, and he has my 100 percent support," Venarge said in a telephone interview Monday. "They're treating him like a dog."

St. John said he was exhausted, hungry and in desperate need of a shower. So why insist on staying in a house that isn't even his?

It's mostly old-fashioned stubbornness, he admitted.

"Am I being unreasonable?" St. John asked. "Maybe. But now it's a test of wills. And I'm under no legal obligation to leave my home."

[Last modified August 17, 2004, 00:04:21]

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