tampabay.com

Cost of removing signs? No charge

A Pasco County man learns he won't be prosecuted for plucking illegal signs from the ground.

By David DeCamp, Times Staff Writer
Published December 17, 2007


HOLIDAY - What forces were not lined up against Gary Thomas? He faced the Sheriff's Office, prosecutors, county bosses and neighbors. Some Realtors and perhaps misdirected garage sale patrons.

All because he hated homemade signs so much that he snatched dozens of them on weekends in his Holiday neighborhood, insisting that it is illegal to put them on public property. If you plopped, say, a garage sale sign in what he considered the wrong place - poof! The sign would disappear.

Put off by Thomas' persistent raids, authorities charged him with petty theft in April.

When the St. Petersburg Times told his story on June 1, retiree Eugene Pool thought: Thomas is outlandish but right.

Pool, 71, of Lutz, also hates illegal signs. He's on the county volunteer patrol against them. He also is a member of the Florida Bar, though he hasn't tried a case in 21 years.

Turns out he had some evidence that would help Thomas. A county lawyer had written an e-mail to Pool in May saying illegal signs are "litter." If they're litter, how could Thomas be prosecuted for removing them?

Pool also thought it was significant that the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office had cleared Thomas, 58, of similar complaints in the past, saying he hadn't broken the law.

Thomas was supposed to have a hearing on his bid to dismiss the case last Monday, but that morning a court secretary called. The State Attorney's Office had dropped the charge.

"He's lucky," said assistant state attorney Mike Halkitis, who explained that prosecutors studied maps and figured out that Thomas took signs from county right of way with no criminal intent. It took the county eight months to decide that.

Thomascelebrated with friends, tacos and two draft beers. It was a good day in every way. Almost.

Fifteen signs lay in a heap near the entrance to his neighborhood a week ago. Thomas said he has waited three weeks for the county to pick them up.

This isn't over.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or toll-free1-800-333-7505, ext. 6232. Staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report.