The Most Florida Things That Happened in 2017
You've likely never seen a headline that read “Maine Man arrested for robbing Walmart with a lobster.” Not that stuff like that doesn’t happen, but in other states stupid thieves aren’t always preceded by their home state as some sort of hilarious identifier. But in Florida, whenever anyone does something weird, the headline always starts with “Florida.” Because people know whatever comes next is gonna be bizarre, disturbing, surreal, maybe a little bit sexy, and will almost definitely involve a reptile. And if you wanna see how 2017 stacked up to 2016, you can check that out right here.
This past year saw a lot of Florida people doing a lot of Florida things. We talked to perennial Florida man Craig Pittman -- whose book Oh, Florida: How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country just came out in paperback -- and he helped us find the most Florida stories of 2017 from a golf cart chop shop to 15 pounds of mysterious falling sausage.
A female opossum broke into a closed liquor store and helped herself to some whiskey, passed out, and was later discovered by a Cash’s Liquor employee sitting next to an empty bottle the next morning. The opossum was brought to the Emerald Coast Wildlife refuge where she was flushed with fluids, then sent to Delray Beach for rehab.
When every weird news story here starts with “Florida Man” and “Florida Woman,” can you really blame anyone for not wanting to say they’re from here? This was the logic of a couple found in an unmarked boat eight miles off the coast of Fort Pierce, who lacked ID and would only say they were “man and woman of Earth.” Which, while technically true, apparently wasn’t the answer customs agents were looking for. The man was booked into St. Lucie County Jail on charges of resisting an officer without violence.
In Florida, even our birds are a bunch of thieves. A 67-year-old woman named Irene donned a giant turkey costume this past November and headed to a Belks in Lady Lake, where police claim surveillance cameras saw her stuffing said turkey costume with purses, jewelry, and a waffle maker. “I was hoping to wear my costume to court,” she said to Pittman in an interview. Which will undoubtedly land her on this list again in 2018.
Once upon a time, if you owed people a bunch of money all you had to do was move to Florida, and they’d never find you again. That’s a little harder now, so Marc Anthony Perez had to get creative after a Pennsylvania couple discovered the $13,000 he’d charged them for renovations to their winter home never got done. After being hounded for weeks he sent a text message from his “daughter” claiming he’d died in a car accident. Smelling something rotten, one of the victims staked out Perez’s home until he found him walking outside one morning, very much alive. A lawsuit against him is still pending.
Well, looks like we’ll have to set that big “It’s been _____ days since an airplane ran into an alligator” sign back to zero. Back in June a man piloting a Piper PA 31 was attempting a late-night landing at Orlando Executive Airport when an 11-foot alligator jumped up from the runway and attacked the wing. The 500-pound beast died on impact. No people were injured despite damage to the aircraft. It was the first time it had happened since 2013.
One might think eliminating cars would cut down on the number of chop shops in a city. But then one vastly underestimates the criminal will of a Floridian. In June, Sumter County Sheriff’s deputies raided a home in The Villages -- the retirement community best known for STD outbreaks and golf carts -- and found evidence of an underground golf cart chop shop. The alleged shop was run by Kathleen Unrath, who had moved in with her elderly uncle to “take care of him.” A relative term she apparently took to mean “use his garage to sell illicit electric cart parts.”
When you move to Florida, nobody tells you convicted felons with gunshot wounds to the crotch might come screaming into your house. But that’s exactly what happened to a Jacksonville woman who allowed a man into her home after he arrived panicked, claiming he’d just “accidentally” sat on a gun in his car and shot himself in the penis. Calmly, she took him to a nearby hospital. It was later discovered the man had a cocaine possession conviction from 2004, and could possibly return to prison for unlawful firearms possession.
Naked men running through your house and trying on your clothes? Apparently a normal Tuesday in New Smyrna. Though it was still a shock to 82-year-old Sylvia Garmon who found Joseph Vaglica in his birthday suit breaking into her garage. She called 911 and went to her son-in-law’s house next door, as Vaglica spent the rest of the morning running in and out of Garmon’s house, sometimes naked and sometimes dressed in her clothing. He was later arrested.
Edgewater’s Bella Vista Baptist Church decided to throw up a sign in front that announced to passersby that “Forgiveness is swallowing when you want to spit.” Which, though true, led one or two people to think the sign might be talking about something other than communion wine. Which Baptists don’t even use. The church claimed it was purely unintentional and took it down.
Those Jacksonville police aren’t exactly masters of subtlety. When an October dispute broke out on a street corner over pictures posted to a Facebook group, the responding officers showed up at the scene, blaring a very loud version of War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” The police diffused with situation without incident. “I’m a little irritated,” one of the women involved in the dispute told reported Ben Conrack. “I can’t get that song out of my head now.”
Admit it: Every time you go to one of those funky beach bars with dollars stapled to the wall you think “How come nobody ever takes all of those?” Well, Danny Limongelli took it a step further, breaking into the Siesta Key Oyster Bar and swiping $150 in singles off the wall, then spending them on first thing any self-respecting Florida Man would: a Pub Sub. Finding it odd someone would pay for his chicken tender sandwich with a bunch of bills marked “Bill and Wally: Spring Break ’89!” Publix employees reported him. He was later arrested at a Bealls Outlet.
Every good Floridian has a side hustle. Some people sell airbrushed T-shirts on the internet. Some people, like Sumter County Sheriff’s deputy William Rappleyea, teach concealed weapons courses in their free time. And in one of the most Florida moves of the year, Rappleyea added a side hustle to his side hustle: pawning the guns a woman loaned him to teach the course. The sheriff’s office did not respect the hustle, and Rappleyea immediately resigned.
A female teacher throwing an X-rated party for a former male student typically doesn't raise an eyebrow in Florida. Throwing said party -- complete with penis-shaped hats and vagina-shaped lollipops -- in your classroom, during school hours, with 11-year-olds in attendance? That's just inappropriate. So when a teacher at Mater Lakes Academy in Miami did exactly that this fall, she found herself unemployed. Though when the market for Bat Mitzvah/Bachelorette Parties takes off, she should be set.
If you had to pick a state with a potential US representative who openly claims she talks to aliens, it probably would not be Delaware. Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera is running for Congress in Miami, and says she visited an alien ship when she was a child, and that she still communicates with them. Telepathically. She said the aliens told her many things, including information about the Coral Castle in Miami actually being an ancient Egyptian pyramid.
The pristine, family-friendly image of the Miss Sailfish Regatta Bikini Contest in Stuart was marred forever in 2017 when one contestant attacked another with a high-heeled shoe after they got offstage. Erica Kaitlyn Mize told her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend Sara Shipley -- also a contestant -- that she’d “better go to the gyno, because you’re in for a rude awakening.” Then, instead of applying Ravishing Rick Rude’s finishing move, hit her with a turquoise platform wedge. Martin County prosecutors opted not to file charges, but surely still have the file somewhere.
Usually when government malfeasance and strippers show up in the same story, it doesn’t involve going a little too crazy in the track lighting aisle. But when Anita Pedemy saw the bills her hubby was racking up at Home Depot, she knew where she could get the money to pay for it: strippers, apparently. Pedemy worked as a clerk for Palm Beach Country and collected fees for the Adult Entertainment Licenses the county issues strippers. Over three years she siphoned off over $27,000 worth of those fees until she was caught this year. She faces charges of grand theft, fraud, and misconduct.
People who hear weird noises in their house often say it’s haunted, but in Florida it could mean a lot of things. Bob van der Herchen of Englewood went up into his attic to investigate some noises his family complained of, and found a 6-foot boa constrictor. Trappers later estimated it had been there for two to four years. The snake was not charged back rent.
Though there were unconfirmed reports about people rubbing sunscreen on their eyes, this year’s dumbest eclipse viewer still has to be Joscan Feliciano Rosado, who after stealing a car on August 21 stopped at a Kissimmee hardware store to buy a welder’s mask so he could watch the total eclipse... while police were chasing him. Good news for Joscan is he’s now fully prepared for the next eclipse in 2024. If he’s out by then.
You’d think anyone who’d watched Zoolander or a Roadrunner cartoon would know not to light a cigarette while transporting propane, but not in Florida. Here we have people like the Orlando couple who were transporting a propane barbecue in their Kia when the woman lit a cigarette. To nobody outside Florida’s surprise, the car quickly became a big, rolling ball of combustion. Fortunately, neither was seriously injured. Though their reputations might be.
When you want to see your childhood dreams of Mickey Mouse come to life, you go to Orlando. If you want to see Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs in real life, move to Deerfield Beach. That’s where one family woke up to 15 pounds of mysterious frozen Italian sausage falling on its roof. They called the meat provider written on the packages, who had no explanation. Still, that poor guy who lives in Walter White’s house doesn’t wanna hear their complaining.
Some people just don’t appreciate the subtle nuances of 18 million people trying to live in a swamp. Take Robert Lansberry, who on the day after Thanksgiving was arrested in St. Petersburg for violently shouting about how terrible Florida was and how every other state was superior. We can neither confirm nor deny that he used an article he once read to back up this claim.
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