Where the rules rule, he's seen as scofflaw

First written up for a brawl on a bocce court, this retiree now has a date in county court.


Article Courtesy of The St. Petersburg Times


Published March 26, 2007

SPRING HILL - Russell Sullivan is 76 and served his country in the Coast Guard, served his city in the Boston Fire Department and finally four years ago moved down here to the Timber Pines retirement community. He figures he's earned the right to do darn well what he wants.

Like cuss on occasion.

Or cross a double yellow line.

Or raise Cain every now and again.

Timber Pines disagrees.

This is a strange but uniquely Florida story, maybe a little bit funny, also a little bit sad: There's an altercation on a bocce court, and a cane, and road rage involving a golf cart, and a misdemeanor trespassing charge, and ultimately it leads this week to an appeals hearing in front of some community patrol board and an appearance in front of a for-real judge in Hernando County Court.

Sullivan even has spent money he doesn't really have to hire well-known Brooksville attorney Peyton Hyslop.

"I'm used to being free, and I'm not free in here," Sullivan said the other day at the small table in the corner of his kitchen. "I'm a criminal! At 76!

"This is a travesty of justice," he said.

"He's very upset," Hyslop said, "that his good name after all these years is going down in flames."

Timber Pines is home to about 6,000 people, average age 70. Most live in medium-sized homes, many of them stucco, many of them tan, many of them with screened-in porches and pools. The place set off from U.S. 19 is divided into different "villages." There are more golf carts than cars, and three years ago 1,138 of those golf carts rolled around in a parade that put Timber Pines into the Guinness Book of World Records.

The minutes from community meetings are pinned to the bulletin boards in the halls of the main lodge.

One man got up during open forum last month and talked about "the broaching of Timber Pines' exterior walls, most likely by young people."

Some of the other concerns:

A resident was attacked by a bird. "Can something be done?"

A golf outing was forced to end early. "Why?"

The residents of Timber Pines are given numbers.

Russell Sullivan is No. 21118.

His misadventures began in earnest last March.

"I was playing a game of bocce, right?" he said. "And this guy, he took the ball away from me, right? He said he was going to hit me with his cane, right, and I told him, 'I'll take the cane and shove it up your a--.' " He was written up by the bocce coordinator for "uncontrollable anger and very loud use of very foul language."

Sullivan thinks the people here - "behind the walls of Timber Pines," he says - have been out to get him ever since.

Fast-forward to Jan. 31 of this year: Sullivan was driving his tan Toyota Camry, taking his 2-year-old sick grandson to the doctor, and he passed a golf cart carrying Frank Ruzicka and Ron Forrester, Nos. 13072 and 13118, respectively. He swerved back in front of them, according to the internal report and statements from witnesses. "Thereafter," the chief of Timber Pines Access Control & Community Patrol wrote in his report, "a road rage incident ensued."

"You are not supposed to pass on double yellow lines!" Ruzicka yelled.

Sullivan slammed on his brakes.

"Don't yell at me!" he hollered.

"I'll yell at you because you're not doing the right thing!"

"What am I supposed to do, follow you creepin' along?"


Sullivan got out of his car and put up his fists.

"Let's settle this right here and now!"

Joe Boldiga, the Timber Pines general manager, gave Sullivan a citation for "abusive, offensive or threatening language or actions on Community Property."

One of the golf cart guys has a phone number that doesn't take calls. The other one has a number that does but he didn't want to talk to the Times. "I do not want to make any comment," Ruzicka said.

Sullivan, meanwhile, said Ruzicka was the one who "started it."

"He yelled at me," he said. "He called me names."

A hearing was set. Sullivan chose to appeal.

Three weeks later, Sullivan was at the lodge to check on the date and time of the appeal hearing, he said, when Timber Pines staffers asked him to leave. He didn't want to, and wouldn't, and that led to the Sheriff's Office being called. That led to Sullivan, born Aug. 23, 1930, being arrested for trespassing.

The sheriff's report says he was "very uncooperative," "irate, verbally abusive," and "caused quite a scene."

The form from the county jail says he was booked with a tan hat, a gold ring and a pair of white tennis shoes.

"They put me in the wagon," he said the other day in his kitchen. "They put me in handcuffs. And they hurt me."

He says they bruised his leg. He has snapshots. His knee is sore, he says.

Sullivan's punishment for the incident with the golf cart was a $100 fine and three months' "loss of privileges." The appeal hearing is Tuesday morning in the community's performing arts center. He also has a pretrial hearing for the trespassing charge Thursday morning in front of County Judge Kurt Hitzemann.

At Timber Pines, "loss of privileges" means no golf, no bocce, no tennis, no swimming, no shuffleboard, no Scrabble. No carpentry shop, no fitness center, no horseshoes.

"It's a wonder they let me walk around!" Sullivan said.

He says he didn't get the community rule book until three weeks after he bought his house. He says he never would have bought had he seen the rules.

"You have no life of your own in here!" he said.

Boldiga says it's a shame it's gotten to this point with Sullivan.

Noreen Sullivan says she doesn't talk to other people about her husband. They've been married 51 years. Russell Sullivan says they might get a divorce because of this.

"See what happens?" he said. "No one will stick by me."

Papers were strewn about the tabletop the other day. Firefighting pamphlets. Certificates of service. Letters from the Community Patrol. Witness statements. The sheriff's report. Outside the back window of his house was the sunny fairway of the 17th hole. To the side was a white fence with some broken slats. The broken slats were down on the ground. Around those slats were old leaves that have settled.

It's been like this for a while.

"I'll be 77 in August," Russell Sullivan said. "Do I need this?

"Huh?" he said.