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Older isn't always wiser, as jail records show

TAMPA — In the past two months, dozens of seniors took trips to bay area jails.

There was the man police say passed worthless checks, the woman accused of swiping crystal figurines from Macy's, and the husband and wife that deputies say robbed a man at gunpoint. They are all in their 70s.

On Thursday, James W. Bruce, a 73-year-old grandfather, garnered attention when police arrested him on three counts of bank robbery. He told officers he needed the money to pay his mortgage.

But he wasn't the only member of his generation booked into jail recently. In the past two months, 29 people over the age of 70 have been arrested by local agencies, and 42 people age 66 to 70 were arrested.

In the 70-plus category, their crimes included aggravated assault, five charges for driving under the influence, three charges of grand theft, two for domestic battery and two for robbery.

Mary Joan Webb, 77, was arrested in December and charged with grand theft. She is accused of stealing $534 worth of merchandise from Macy's at WestShore Plaza, police said. A security officer said he saw her take some crystal ornaments and a chocolate bar and put them into her jacket and purse.

Records show this wasn't her first offense. At age 73, she pleaded guilty to grand theft and was sentenced to a year and a half of probation for taking about $2,376 worth of small crystal and porcelain figurines from Neiman Marcus at International Plaza.

And just last month, Pasco deputies arrested a 66-year-old man accused of doing what Bruce was charged with: robbing three banks.

Deputies say Harold Van Horn had been staying at various hotels along U.S. 19 when he robbed a Regions Bank twice and a Fifth Third Bank once. Each time, they said, he handed the teller a threatening note demanding money. He made off with $5,750 total, deputies said.

Upon his capture, detectives say, Van Horn said he lost his job in Ohio, traveled to Florida, ran out of money and turned to robbing banks to support himself.

Some people commenting on news Web sites lauded Bruce's and Van Horn's efforts. Others called them greedy or said their arrests were sad.

Sad?

That's what happens when people think the crime was committed out of necessity, said Penn State human development professor Steven Zarit.

He also pointed out that wisdom does not necessarily come with age, as the old adage suggests.

"It's probably related to expertise," he said.

In Tampa, Lieutenant Johnson, 73, and his wife Annie Lewis Johnson, 72, were charged with robbery with a firearm. Deputies say Lieutenant Johnson robbed a man at gunpoint and his wife helped him and tried to hide the .25-caliber pistol.

In a phone interview, Lieutenant said he was simply going to pick up money owed to him by a man he helped move. He said he didn't have a gun with him when he knocked at the door. Police just found one that he kept in his car, he said.

He said it was the first time he had been arrested — and only the second time he'd been fingerprinted. The first was when he got a job at Greyhound.

"I ain't never gotten into no trouble," he said.

State records confirm he doesn't have an arrest record in Florida.

In Pasco County, Milo Dakic, 73, was accused of selling a $20,000 excavator that he didn't own, police said. He was charged with grand theft.

In Pinellas County, Alan Ace Springer, 70, was charged with possession of marijuana. On Jan. 7, authorities say, he refused to leave Gators Cafe and Saloon on Treasure Island when asked. Officers found three marijuana cigarettes inside a prescription bottle after they tried to escort him out, an arrest report states.

And in December, Arthur P. Kulaga, 77, of Palm Harbor was arrested on charges of aggravated assault with a firearm. Tarpon Springs police say Kulaga got into a fight with another driver. A man gave Kulaga the middle finger, and Kulaga grabbed a .25-caliber semiautomatic handgun from his pocket and pointed it at the man, police said.

The other man drove off and called police, who arrested Kulaga.

He's pleading not guilty.

Times researcher John Martin and staff writers Shelley Rossetter and Jamal Thalji contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Older isn't always wiser, as jail records show 02/12/10 [Last modified: Monday, February 15, 2010 10:16am]
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