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Dad says he pulled no strings for son

Records say Pinellas EMS medical director Bruce Pettyjohn intervened in his son's earlier scrapes with the law. He adamantly denies it. The son now is accused in the beatings of two llamas.

By ED QUIOCO

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 17, 2001


EAST LAKE -- An 18-year-old charged in the golf-club beating of two pet llamas is the son of Pinellas County's EMS medical director, who twice has spoken to deputies on his son's behalf when the youth had scrapes with the law, records show.

Deputies have encountered the son, Robert B. Pettyjohn II, 15 times since 1992, according to Pinellas County sheriff's records. In 1997, county medical director Dr. Bruce Pettyjohn told a deputy investigating his son for grand theft that he knew a high-ranking official at the Sheriff's Office and joked that he "might need to ask for a favor."

In an hour-long interview Friday, Dr. Pettyjohn adamantly denied making that remark.

"I can tell you categorically that I have never said anything like that," he said. "I would never pull strings, period."

To the contrary, he gave several examples of times when he and his wife cooperated with investigators and pushed for stiffer punishment for their son.

Dr. Pettyjohn said he has asked for court-mandated therapy for his son, who he acknowledges has "had some serious problems," including drug and alcohol abuse and a violent streak. When he read news articles about the llama attack, Dr. Pettyjohn said, he thought he was "going to be sick."

Robert Pettyjohn was charged Monday with felony animal cruelty in the bloody attack on two pet llamas in the Ranch Road neighborhood about a half-mile from the Pettyjohns' home.

Robert Pettyjohn's friend, Brandon R. Eldred, 17, of East Lake, was charged with two counts of felony cruelty to animals and one count of armed trespass in the attack, which killed a 4-year-old llama and severely injured a 3-month-old llama.

As EMS medical director, Dr. Pettyjohn, 62, is not a county employee but has a contract to establish patient care standards for the EMS system and provide an around-the-clock service so paramedics can communicate by radio with doctors for guidance on patient care.

The county pays $1-million a year to Emergency Medical Services Group Inc., of which Dr. Pettyjohn is a corporate officer, along with Jeff Barnard, the executive director of the Office of the Medical Director.

Dr. Pettyjohn has been the EMS medical director since 1996 but has served in the office for 25 years. In 1999, he was named Florida's EMS medical director of the year.

In May 1997, a deputy was getting ready to charge Robert Pettyjohn with grand theft for allegedly stealing two motorcycles when Dr. Pettyjohn said his son would answer no more questions.

"It should be noted," Deputy Todd Turpack wrote, "that (Dr. Pettyjohn) advised me that he knows a high-ranking official within the sheriff's organization and jokingly said he might need to ask for a favor."

Dr. Pettyjohn said he did not recall this case and that he would never make such a joke.

"I have never tried to intervene with the judicial system in any manner," said Dr. Pettyjohn, who returned to work about two months after a stroke last August.

The case was referred to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, which declined to file formal charges, said Marianne Pasha, sheriff's spokeswoman.

It is not uncommon for people to claim that they know an official at the Sheriff's Office, especially when they are being questioned by deputies, Pasha said. She said "that is dutifully made note of in the report, but it does not affect the progress of the case."

About 1 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2000, deputies and paramedics were called to the Pettyjohn home on Ranch Road about a possible drug overdose.

There, according to a sheriff's incident report, an unidentified male friend told deputies that Robert Pettyjohn had taken "acid" at a party earlier that night and become combative.

While handcuffed to a gurney, Robert Pettyjohn "looked toward the cabinets in the ambulance and advised a paramedic he was looking for an object to use to stab the other paramedic in the heart," Deputy Gary Williams wrote. "He also told Deputy (Christopher) Kirn and I he would see us through a rifle scope one day."

Robert Pettyjohn spat in Williams' face when the deputy tried to search his clothes for weapons, according to the incident report.

Deputies took him to Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital in Tarpon Springs and prepared to have him committed for examination under Florida's Baker Act, which allows for the involuntary commitment of people who threaten or attempt to hurt themselves or others, and to charge him with battery on a law enforcement officer.

On Jan. 2, after his son had been released from the hospital, Dr. Pettyjohn told deputies that his son "took a higher dosage of his medication Neurontin on 12-31-99, which caused him to act the way he did," Williams wrote.

"He said his son was suffering from the side effects of the Neurontin and was not aware of his actions," Williams wrote. The doctor "stated the battery on the (law enforcement officer) charge could not be prosecuted successfully with these mitigating circumstances."

Robert Pettyjohn pleaded no contest to battery on a law enforcement officer, Pasha said. He was sentenced to pay a $50 fee, complete 50 hours of community service, take an anger management course, continue his studies in school and get individual and family counseling. He also was given a curfew, told he had to follow the rules of the house and required to take a tour of the county jail.

Dr. Pettyjohn said he was the one who insisted that his son be required to take the jail tour because he thought it "might do him some good."

Dr. Pettyjohn said his son has "a lot of good qualities" and has volunteered his time to help hurricane victims, children of migrant workers and homeless veterans.

Dr. Pettyjohn said an example of him not interfering with the judicial system is the fact that his son was still in jail on Friday on $30,000 bail. He said his son needs "serious therapy" and he hopes that a judge will require him to get that.

Recent coverage

Suspect in llama attack faces new charge (February 15, 2001)

Llama attack shakes idyllic neighborhood (February 14, 2001)

2 llamas beaten; teenager charged (February 12, 2001)

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