Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

After 20 years, fugitive arrives at Pasco County jail hoping for mercy

Late Monday evening, Herbert Elsea and his older sister, Kitty, left their home of Bristol, Tenn., and headed south to Florida. It was a place to which, 20 years ago, Elsea had sworn he would never return.

He was a wanted man for violating his probation on an old drug charge. He had been content to ignore the matter till he died, but the government wouldn't let him.

Elsea, 63, can't draw Social Security while he's a fugitive.

So his sister picked him up Monday, and they drove through the night. Elsea hoped for mercy.

• • •

Back in 1990, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper pulled over Elsea's Pontiac Grand Prix for a cracked light. A search revealed 4 ounces of marijuana in the trunk. Elsea pleaded guilty to the felony drug possession charge and spent 60 days in jail.

While on probation the following year, Elsea asked for permission to go to Tennessee because his father had died. When he got there, he said, he realized he needed more time. He called his probation officer.

"I'm going to be a day late," Elsea recalled telling her. She told him that if he wasn't at his probation meeting the next day, he would be in violation.

"I have to go to my father's funeral," he recalled telling her. "So I guess I'm in violation."

And he never came back. He said he has lived a quiet, rambling life since then — a few years working construction in Bristol, then several managing a beach-front motel in Biloxi, Miss. He returned to Tennessee after Hurricane Katrina. He drove a truck for a bit. Then he retired.

That's when his past bit him.

Last summer, he got a letter from the government saying his Social Security payments were being halted until he resolved the outstanding warrant for his arrest. Elsea, a lifelong bachelor, put it off and lived off his savings as long as he could. His sister kept at him, saying he needed to just go and get this over with. His savings dwindled.


So this week he said goodbye to his cat, Tiny, whom his neighbors are feeding till he gets back. His sister drove, and, on Tuesday, they arrived at the Pasco County jail in Land O'Lakes. He walked up to the counter.

"I figured they would send me on my way," said Elsea.

He was handcuffed and booked. He has no bail. During his first appearance, he declined a public defender because he said he didn't want to "waste their time," he said Wednesday in interview with the Times. "I ain't no big deal." He said he had already pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana.

"I really don't see the point of a lawyer," he said. "I am in violation of probation.

"I signed something. I don't know what for."

Attorney J. Larry Hart, who is not working on the case, said because the original charge was a felony, Elsea could face up to five years in prison.

"I think anybody in this type of situation could benefit from counsel," Hart said.

Wearing a faded orange and white jumpsuit, Elsea talked about jail — he had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, he's sleeping on a mattress on the floor, the nurse hasn't seen him yet to get him his blood pressure medicine — and the gravity of the situation hit him.

He said he has been trying to call his sister, but the call won't go through. He wants her to know that he's okay and that he'll take the Greyhound home once he's out, so she shouldn't wait for him.

He rubbed his forehead. He had a terrible headache, likely from caffeine withdrawal. They don't serve coffee in jail.

Times reporter Molly Moorhead and researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at or (727) 869-6229.

After 20 years, fugitive arrives at Pasco County jail hoping for mercy 01/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 9:16pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. St. Pete qualifying ends. Seven for mayor. Eight for District 6 on primary ballot


    The smiles of the faces of the workers in the City Clerk’s office said it all. The qualifying period for city elections was almost over.

    City Clerk Chan Srinivasa (2nd left) and Senior Deputy City Clerk  Cathy Davis (1st left) celebrate the end of qualifying period with colleagues on Friday afternoon
  2. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county


    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.
  3. Registered sexual predator charged in assault of woman in Brooksville

    Public Safety

    Times Staff Writer

    BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County deputies arrested a registered sexual predator Thursday after they say he attempted to assault a woman and fled into a storm drain.

    Lee Roy Rettley has been charged with attempted homicide, attempted sexual battery and home invasion robbery.
  4. Honda denies covering up dangers of Takata air bags


    With just a third of the defective Takata air bag inflators replaced nationwide, the corporate blame game of who will take responsibility — and pay — for the issue has shifted into another gear.

    Honda is denying covering up dangers of Takata air bags. | [Scott McIntyre, New York Times]
  5. Former CEO of Winn-Dixie parent joining Hong Kong company


    The former CEO of the Jacksonville-based parent of Winn-Dixie grocery stores, Ian McLeod, has landed a new leadership role in Hong Kong. He is joining the pan-Asian based Dairy Farm International Holdings Ltd. as group chief executive.

    Ian McLeod, who is stepping down as the CEO of the parent company of Winn-Dixie, has been hired by Dairy Farm International Holdings. 
[Photo courtesy of Southeastern Grocers]