The long-running fruit fight between two octogenarian neighbors will have to be resolved without the help of cops or the courts.
Italo Tomaselli, an irascible 80-year-old neighbor with whom Ruth Snow shares a lawn, avoided arraignment at the Hernando County courthouse this week for swiping a few tangerines from her tree. Prosecutors dropped the case Jan. 9, saying the offense didn't merit a court date.
"This wasn't the sort of case to bring to trial," said Erin Corcoran Daly, an assistant state attorney, on Thursday. "Ms. Snow just wanted Mr. Tomaselli to stop taking her property and coming onto her property. We think he got the message."
"There was no merit to the case," Tomaselli said. "It was one tangerine."
Tomaselli faced a misdemeanor charge of theft after being accused of stealing a tangerine from the 81-year-old widow's tree on Dec. 17. Snow called the Sheriff's Office after watching Tomaselli walk into her back yard and walk off with a few tangerines.
Deputies asked if he had any fruit, and Tomaselli grudgingly handed over a piece. The deputies then returned the tangerine to Snow and Tomaselli was cited for the offense, according to a Sheriff's Office report.
Snow said she was disappointed Tomaselli wouldn't at least have to pay a fine or face a judge. "He is a thief and a liar," Snow said. "He hasn't been taking just one at a time. He's been cleaning my trees off."
Snow had been waiting for a chance to turn in Tomaselli to the authorities. She said the seeds of the grudge were sown nearly 15 years ago, when she and her husband argued with Tomaselli over the boundaries of their back yards. From that day on, Snow said, the grudge took root and yielded a lengthy conflict.
"You don't want to fight with a neighbor, but we had to do something," Snow said. "It got to the point where my husband would be yelling at him. My blood pressure went sky high with him."
After her husband died five years ago, Snow said, Tomaselli started regularly coming into the yard to pick the fruit off the grapefruit and tangerine trees. Snow had a couple of the trees cut down a year ago, hoping to discourage Tomaselli from coming into her yard.
Tomaselli admitted taking the occasional piece of fruit, but he said he did it to prevent it from being wasted. "She just lets those tangerines fall on the ground," Tomaselli said.
The recent run-in with Snow has elevated Tomaselli's profile in the neighborhood. He said that not long after appearing in the Times following his theft charge, a woman came to his home and brought him a large bag of tangerines.
"All the neighbors are in my favor," Tomaselli said.
Snow said she has gotten a much different sort of response.
"I've got some awful letters in the mail," she said. "These do-gooders are driving me crazy. They're telling me I should put up a fence ... if they want to pay for a fence, they can do it."
Meanwhile, Tomaselli has been mulling over a different sort of resolution: intervention from the Hernando County Health and Human Services department.
"I'm thinking about calling them," he said. "It's becoming a nuisance because any sort of animal can come over here with all those tangerines on the ground. I don't like that."
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 754-6120.