Two charged with violating rights of disabled

Authorities say that in two separate cases women were denied access to businesses because of their service dogs.

Published March 31, 2006

INVERNESS - The State Attorney's Office has filed charges against two different business owners, saying they illegally turned away disabled customers who showed up with service dogs.

June Dragon, 46, who is disabled and hearing impaired, said she was not allowed to go into Cowboy Junction Flea Market in Lecanto with her 19-month-old shepherd-mix, Luna, on Feb. 21.

Dragon, who said she has been going to the flea market for years, said she was left aghast when market owner Boris "Buddy Max" Pastuch refused to let her in even after she showed him the dog's collar tag, identifying Luna as a registered service animal.

"He told me he didn't care," Dragon said Thursday. "He said it was his flea market and he didn't allow any dogs."

Pastuch, 78, could not be reached for comment Thursday. He is scheduled to appear in court April 20 on a charge of violating the rights of a physically disabled person. Denying access to a disabled person is a second-degree misdemeanor. If convicted, Pastuch could face up to 60 days in jail, a $500 fine or both.

Dragon, who traces her hearing loss to her childhood when her father used to shoot targets in the woods standing next to her, said she wants Pastuch to apologize.

She would like to return to the market with Luna, who was rescued from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. She misses the exercise she got while shopping for fruits and vegetables there. She also misses her friends, the vendors.

"He (Pastuch) needs to change his policy," she said. "And he needs to make a very big apology, a heartfelt apology, not only to me but to the other hearing-impaired people."

In a separate case, Hong Nguyen, the owner of K-Nails in Crystal River, was also charged with violating the rights of a disabled person.

According to a complaint filed with the Crystal River Police Department on March 6, Nguyen refused to let Cynthia Holden, a 57-year-old Lecanto woman who is blind, into her salon. The complaint said Holden walked into the salon with her service dog, Lily.

Reached by telephone, Nguyen said she told Holden that her 3-year-old son, who was in the salon, has severe allergies. She said Holden's dog was not wearing an identification tag and that Holden did not say she was blind.

"She didn't say why she had the dog," Nguyen said Thursday, "She wasn't blind. I saw her drive up in her car."

Holden could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Nguyen also has been issued an order to appear in court April 20.

Eddy Ramirez can be reached at eramirez@sptimes.com or 860-7305.