Outrage followed when a beloved a toll collector at the Boca Grande Causeway was suddenly fired after working there nearly 30 years.
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 $6 in, I got the $6 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. The Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority was reached 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.