For 15 to 20 people who scooped up $7,700 scattered along Ulmerton Road early Wednesday evening, Christmas came early. But for Angela Castellano De Rafaniello, an 80-year-old Argentinian, her savings literally blew away, and a festive vacation turned dark.
"I didn't sleep well last night," said Thomas A. Brazauskas, the Florida Highway Patrol trooper who watched helplessly as people sped away with the money. "I almost cried. If I had a lot of money, I'd give it to her."
Brazauskas said he came upon the free-for-all about 6 p.m. Wednesday. As he pulled up, he noticed cars parked every way possible on Ulmerton west of 49th Street N. He thought there had been an accident.
However, he discovered $8,000 blowing about and people running around "like maniacs" trying to snare the 80 $100 bills. He couldn't believe what he was witnessing.
What happened next horrified Brazauskas even more.
"As soon as I put my lights on, it was like roaches scattering when you turn the lights on at night," Brazauskas said. "I couldn't catch anybody."
Mrs. De Rafaniello's purse, which had been placed on the bumper of her granddaughter's Jeep and forgotten, had fallen into the road some time Wednesday, he said. A vehicle hit the purse, sending the bills flying into the wind.
Brazauskas said he was crushed that people would see the purse lying in the middle of the road and then drive away with the money. He said people also opened two plastic bags and removed Mrs. De Rafaniello's medication for diabetes and heart disease. He recovered only $300.
"I thought I had done a good job finding $300," he said. Mrs. De Rafaniello "almost had a heart attack."
Neither Mrs. De Rafaniello nor her relatives could be reached for comment Thursday.
Mrs. De Rafaniello and her husband had come to Florida from Argentina to visit relatives they hadn't seen in years, Brazauskas said.
The people who grabbed the money "jumped in their cars and took off like a bunch of maniacs," Brazauskas said. "The people today don't think. They are selfish and heartless.
"There was a guy who even came back," he said. "He said, "There was money blowing around. I'm not just going to let it blow down the road.' "