Lost a car, found a mess
Prowling the jammed mall lot draws unfriendly attention from security and police.
By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE, Times Staff Writer
Published December 23, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG - Larry DiSalvo called Saturday the worst shopping day of his life.
Not even close.
There he stood in the Tyrone Square Mall parking lot, surrounded by three police cruisers and mall security. Police had searched and interrogated him. All the while, DiSalvo said, shoppers gawked, perhaps wondering whom he had killed.
The 57-year-old said he was guilty of one thing: forgetfulness. He lost his 1991 Grand Marquis in a sea of 6,000 parked cars.
But mall security thought he was wandering the parking lot looking for cars to break into.
The result: He's banned from the mall for life.
"They gave me the shopping equivalent of a life term without any parole," the retired real estate agent said. "I'm a mall person. I grew up in malls. I've never in my 57 years on this planet had a problem in a mall.
"Unfortunately," he said, "today my unlucky number came up."
DiSalvo has no apparent criminal record. He said he is an honest Treasure Island resident who has shopped at Tyrone for 14 years without incident. He denied even thinking of breaking into a car.
Tyrone security refused to comment, and mall management did not return calls.
St. Petersburg police said they witnessed no crime, and just issued a trespass warning to DiSalvo at the request of the mall. "It's a decision made by the property owners," said police Sgt. Mark Degan, a shift supervisor. "The officers felt they didn't see any criminal intent," otherwise DiSalvo could have faced arrest.
The day started so encouragingly.
DiSalvo arrived at the mall at 8 a.m. hoping to beat the crowds. He needed to return a piece of jewelry at JCPenney. He found a parking space right away, and hardly gave it a thought as he walked into the mall.
After returning the jewelry he has a receipt to prove it, he wandered a few stores and ate lunch.
DiSalvo dropped a dollar into the Salvation Army pot as he walked out, idly thinking it would bring him good luck.
That's when he looked up and thought, "Oh, my God. I'm lost."
DiSalvo said he wandered one way, then another, peering over cars looking for his white Marquis. After 5 or 10 minutes, mall security drove up. He said he figured they would offer help finding the car.
Instead, DiSalvo said, they told him he had been seen peering into and trying to enter cars. To his astonishment, he said, they told him to leave the property immediately.
Of course, he still hadn't found the car.
So DiSalvo walked across the street to a Kinkos, where he tried to call someone for a ride. That's when police arrived, called by the mall.
The whole thing might have taken an hour. He was repeatedly questioned. Police said they were told he had run away from security. DiSalvo denied it, saying he simply ran across a busy street to avoid heavy traffic.
Degan said mall security informed police they saw DiSalvo trying to break into cars. Someone at Macy's, police were told, saw the same thing.
All nonsense, DiSalvo said.
Police took him back to the mall lot, surrounding him like a common criminal, he said.
Finally, mall security took his picture, he said, and banned him forever, which, DiSalvo added, hurts Sears more than him.
That's where he does most of his shopping.
"If this could happen to me, God forbid, it could happen to your grandmother," DiSalvo said. "It's just ridiculous. I'm as clean as the fresh-driven snow. That's verifiable."
Security did finally find DiSalvo's car. He drove away, never to return.