Llama attack shakes idyllic neighborhood
By ED QUIOCO
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 14, 2001
EAST LAKE -- Alarmed by last weekend's savage beating of two pet llamas, residents of Ranch Road say the attack has changed how they view their bucolic rural neighborhood, with its 5-acre lots, large homes and picket fences.
Many homeowners on the mile-long road have large farm animals, ranging from goats and turkeys to donkeys and horses, both miniature and full-size.
Now they are left with the realization that their own pets might have been attacked just as quickly.
"We are all just mortified about the whole thing," said Donna Henry, 62, who has eight miniature horses, a full-size horse and a lamb on her property on Ranch Road. "It's devastating. It could have been any of us on this street."
The two llamas were beaten shortly before dawn Sunday. The attack killed Monopoly, a 4-year-old female llama, and severely injured 3-month-old Willie Wonka, which was beaten most likely with a golf club. Pinellas County sheriff's detectives have charged 18-year-old Robert B. Pettyjohn Jr., who lives on Ranch Road, about a half-mile from the llamas' home, and 17-year-old Brandon Eldred of East Lake, in the attack.
Neighbors say they were shocked by the viciousness of the beating.
"It's changed my life completely and it's a change that I'm not happy about," said Larry Carroll, 61, who owns two horses. "I'm more fearful now. I didn't believe in having weapons to protect myself. Now I do."
Carroll, who has lived on Ranch Road for 11 years, said it is shocking to hear that someone would abuse animals on a street where so many folks own animals.
"I don't know what got into these kids," Carroll said. "The devil sure did."
Carroll said this was the first time he has heard of anyone abusing animals on the street. But others say they've seen other animals that have been injured.
Scott Coulter, a craft worker at the nearby Brooker Creek Preserve, said Tuesday that he recalled seeing a grotesque sight on Ranch Road about a year ago.
Coulter, who drives Ranch Road daily because there is a maintenance shop for the preserve's equipment at the end of the road, said he saw three or four turtles, two decapitated turtle heads and two fish dangling on a power line that stretches across the road in front of Pettyjohn's home.
Inside the mouths of the turtles and fish were metal hooks attached to fishing line that was tangled on the power line. "You can almost picture those little turtles squirming and squirming until they couldn't squirm any more," Coulter said. "I don't know if that's what happened, but you can almost picture it."
Coulter said he never found out who had hung the animals, which remained on the power line for about a month.
"It angers you," Coulter said. "It may not anger a lot of people, but for people in this field of work, it's very disturbing when we are out here trying to give these animals a safe haven."
On Tuesday, Willie Wonka underwent surgery at the University of Florida Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital to remove its left eye, which was gouged during the attack. The surgery was successful and the llama should be released from the hospital in a few days, said Sarah Carey, spokeswoman for the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.
Willie Wonka also had a fracture in the right nasal bone but that should heal on its own, Carey said. "The prognosis is good."
Pettyjohn confessed Monday night to taking part in the llama-beating to detectives who were questioning him about a burglary at a Tarpon Springs driving range, authorities said. Pettyjohn had been arrested on Sunday on unrelated charges.
Pettyjohn told sheriff's Detectives Mike Weaver and Tom Hoddinott that he and Eldred did not plan to hurt the llamas. They walked down Ranch Road armed with golf clubs to protect themselves against large dogs on the street, Pettyjohn told the detectives.
Pettyjohn, who had drunk beer and taken prescription antidepressants, also told detectives that he and Eldred entered the 1.5-acre pen of the llamas because they were curious, Weaver said. He said they associated what they were doing with cow-tipping, a prank that consists of sneaking up on sleeping cows and knocking them off their feet with a push. But things got out of hand.
Since it was dark, Pettyjohn said, he thought there was a herd of llamas in the pen and he got scared so he whacked one of the llamas, Weaver said. Pettyjohn said he remembered seeing Eldred chasing a llama and then tackling and punching it.
Pettyjohn's family could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
A former soccer coach of Eldred's was surprised by the charges.
"He just isn't that type of kid," said Bill Burton, who coached Eldred for several years in youth soccer. "It's hard for me to believe. He never gave me a problem, but I always did worry about him hanging out with the wrong crowd."
For the residents of Ranch Road, the attack has shaken the security they felt in their neighborhood.
"I don't like where I am mentally now, but I know that will pass," Carroll said. "I think we will all be much more aware of whose around."
-- Staff writer Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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