FL Tollbooth worker fired for paying driver's fee

Support pours in for fired toll collector

Posted: Jul 16, 2015 11:41 PM BSTUpdated: Jul 20, 2015 3:22 PM BST
 
BOCA GRANDE, FL -

Outrage after a beloved a toll collector at the Boca Grande Causeway was suddenly fired after working there nearly 30 years.

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Vladislav Samsonov, who goes by Sam, says he was let go for doing what he felt was the right thing: paying someone's toll.

"In my eyes there was no crime committed, I just helped somebody out," Samsonov said. 

Samsonov says he charged a trailer driver too little last week, and when he realized his mistake, paid the five dollars owed out of his own pocket.  He says it was something he did from time to time if a driver didn't have enough cash.

"I'd put the six dollars in, I got the six dollars back the next day," Samsonov said. 

For 77-year-old Samsonov, who is a military veteran, the job wasn't about the money. It was about the people. 

"After 29 years, you can't help it. I gave children suckers 20 years ago. Now I'm giving those children suckers for their children," Samsonov said. 

There was a ton of outpouring of support online for Samsonov. Jason Rice would see Samsonov at the toll almost daily. 

"My son, he would go over there and Sam would always give him lollipops and give the dogs bones and stuff like that. This doesn't sit will with me, what happened," Rice said. 

Samsonov says he had been asked not to pay for others before, but was never formally written up.

As punishment, the authority offered him two days a week instead of five, which he declined. 

"If I can't be trusted for five days, how can I be trusted for two days?" Samsonov said. 

So he was terminated. NBC2 asked the Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority for comment, and they told me they do not discuss personnel matters.

Samsonov says he'll look to volunteer work for now but will always miss the people at the toll.

"They were my family,'" Samsonov said.

Support continues to pour in

Boca Grande business owner Blanche Vedette would see Samsonov several times a week working the toll booth. She says her commute to work isn't the same.

"He would always give dog bones to the dogs and say hi to them. Ask how our daughter was doing. He was like extended family," Vedette said. 

As word of his firing spreads through the area and social media, many folks want Samsonov to know how much he is missed.

"I just want him to know how much we really do care about him and how he will be missed," Vedette said. 

Even Samsonov himself was blown away by all the compliments sent his way.

"Makes me feel good,  makes me want to cry. But bite your tongue and you'll be ok," Samsonov said. 

The Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority refused to comment. On Friday, Board Chair Ginger Watkins left a message in return saying "we do not comment on personnel matters."

Samsonov maintains he did nothing wrong by paying for a toll, even though it is against Authority policy to do so. He says he was correcting a mistake. 

Still, it's been hard for many of Samsonov's customers to understand his firing especially after 30 years of service. 

"I'm shocked by the whole firing of him, especially for what it was. It just doesn't seem right to me at all," said Jason Rice, a frequent customer. 

Samsonov says he's not sure he would want his job back, even though many want to see him back there. His friends and family say they are exploring possible legal action to see if any Florida laws were violated.

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