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Push Comes To Shove At Genteel Salad Bar


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By DONNA KOEHN [email protected]

Published: Mar 4, 2004

WINTER HAVEN, FL - Picking through the salad bar for just the right nibble of lettuce, a 62- year-old man ended up taking a bite out of a fellow resident's arm instead during a food fracas at an upscale retirement home Sunday, authorities say.

Winter Haven police said Lee Thoss of the Spring Haven Retirement Community was foraging through the lettuce at lunchtime, which disgusted 86-year-old William Hocker, who was standing in line behind him.

Hocker told Thoss no one wanted to eat food he had been playing with.

Thoss started yelling and cursing at him, Hocker told police, and Hocker called Thoss a nasty name.

Thoss then began punching Hocker in the face, witnesses told police.

In the buffet melee that followed, Allen Croft, 79, tried to grab Thoss around his upper body to subdue him. He was bitten by Thoss instead, reports show.

Thoss' mother, Arlene, in her 80s and also a Spring Haven resident, jumped in to break up the fight and ended up with a cut arm, officials said.

Harry Griffin, 92, who was standing at the salad bar when the ruckus began, was knocked to the ground and cut his head.

Norman Dierolf, in his late 70s, told police he was struck by Thoss as Thoss was swinging his arms in a ``wild manner.''

``All the old folks were either getting up to help or trying to get out of there,'' police spokesman J.J. Stanton said of the scene in the well- appointed dining room, which features an ice cream bar and a pastry chef.

Arlene Thoss told police that her son tends to prefer a particular type of lettuce and that it might have appeared that he was playing with his food in line.

She, along with Croft and Griffin, were treated at Winter Haven Hospital and released.

Stanton said all involved declined to press charges, preferring to let the home's administrators handle the problem.

Jill Andrew, Spring Haven's executive director, said Lee Thoss has been asked to leave the facility.

She said ``99.99 percent'' of the 310 residents of the home, ranging in age from 55 to 100, are ``wonderful people.''

``Our residents are so embarrassed by this, but they were innocent, just trying to help,'' she said. ``They're our little heroes.''

The home, on 17 acres surrounding a lake, offers independent living as well as assisted living facilities and boasts a beauty salon, fishing and a country store.

``And now we've got the most famous salad bar in town,'' Andrew said.

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