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Problems sprout with mushrooms

Controversy has blossomed in southwest Citrus County, where a prominent landowner says the public is plucking hallucinogenic mushrooms from his pasture. Herschel and Edwin Rooks own 6,000 acres west of U.S. 19 between Homosassa and Chassahowitzka. The land is home to hundreds of cows, who quitely graze and chew their cud.

But the recent heavy rains, mixed in with cow manure, caused the field to sprout an abundance of mushrooms that may have hallucinogenic properties, Herschel Rooks Sr. said Tuesday.

Authorities have arrested at least six people in the past two months on charges of trespassing on Rooks' property. No drug charges were filed, but Rooks said the intruders had one goal: to find the magic mushrooms.

"They tell me they boil them and get high on them," Rooks said Tuesday.

Citrus sheriff's deputies arrested two people on trespassing charges on Monday. James Michael Eubanks, 19 and Michael James Alberdi, 18, both of Crystal River, were accused of walking in Rooks' field about 6 p.m., an arrest record showed.

Two other men _ 20-year-old Kurt Alan Gutermuth and 36-year-old Leif E. Dereng, both of Homosassa _ have upcoming court dates for their trespassing charges. They were accused of walking on the property May 21.

Tuesday, County Judge Gary Graham sentenced two men to probation for trespassing on Rooks' land.

Sean Schelb, 21, told Graham he walked on Rooks' property May 21 to find his lost dog, a German shepherd collie named Rosebud. The judge gave Schelb a judicial warning and told him to stay away from the land.

Then Rooks stood up and told Graham about the alleged mushroom-hunting. Rooks said Schelb admitted to the hunting to him and the Citrus sheriff's deputy investigating the case.

"Does it (the hunting) scare the cows?" Graham asked.

"Yes sir, it scares them. They can't hardly graze like they should," Rooks replied.

Graham changed the sentence to six months' probation and $91 in court costs and fines.

Later, Schelb denied mushroom-hunting or ever telling Rooks that he did so. "I said I was looking for my dog," Schelb said.

Also receiving six months' probation Tuesday was Ricky Royce, 21. He said he used the field May 21 as a shortcut home from Chassahowitzka; he denied ever looking for mushrooms.

"I don't even know what they look like," Royce said.

Rooks said his family has put up with the intruders for five years. But now more and more people climb the barbed-wire fence, which stands about 5-feet high.

So the Rooks family now calls the Sheriff's Office when an intruder is caught.

Rooks said he has seen some of the intruders with mushrooms in their bags; some even have admitted they were looking for the mushrooms. Catching the trespassers actually is the easiest part, he said. All family members need to do is watch the cows, who always stare at any unusual person wandering in their field.

"The cows tell on them," Rooks said.