- Residents of Sunset Ridge Estates in Merritt Island are outraged to learn that a convicted child molester has been allowed to live within 300 feet of a park frequented by local kids.
Richard Vassallo got a sweet deal in August 2014. Charged with sex offenses that could have put him behind bars for four lifetimes, his lawyers negotiated a plea agreement that called for serving no time at all in prison.
Now, residents of the upscale neighborhood where Vassallo plans to live, say his home is too close to a park and a bus stop.
“This has put our kids in lockdown.” says Karen Atkins, President of the Sunset Ridge Estates Homeowners Association, “We have no way of getting in or out without passing his house.”
Vassallo’s house at 1101 Duskview Drive sits just beyond the well-manicured divider at the main entrance to the subdivision in South Merritt Island. A bus stop for students attending three local schools is located at the entrance, on the corner of Duskview and South Tropical Trail. A wide cross walk reaches across the two-lane roadway to a small, riverside park. According to some of Vassallo’s would-be neighbors, all of this is too close to a Sexual Predator’s front door.
The seventy-seven, year-old purchased the house in October, paying the $378,000 dollar price tag in cash. He lived there for one week before he was ordered to move. Residents had complained that Vassallo was cruising the bus stop in his car at times when children were there. Prosecutors claimed that he was violating the terms of his community control which prohibits Vassallo from being in close proximity to children. The matter ended up in Judge James Earp’s court where Vassallo was arraigned today.
Tiny Duskview Park is privately owned by the Homeowners Association. Residents say it is used for church outings, cook-outs and other family oriented activities.
Local homeowners used the occasion to voice their opposition to Vassallo’s presence and submit affidavits to the court. They contend that Vassallo is too close to the riverside recreation spot to be compliant with the law. Community Control officials say the area does not qualify as a “park” so the prohibition against offenders living within 1,000 feet, does not apply. State law prohibits predators from being near any location where children congregate.
“Our son often rides his bike or skateboard down to go fishing at the pier…” writes one couple in their affidavit, “When he has sleep-overs with his friends they spend hours fishing at the pier or hanging out. Our daughter loves to watch the dolphin play or practice her gymnastics. Sometimes we accompany them and sometimes we do not. We have always considered where we live to be a safe place for children to play.”
Nineteen affidavits were submitted by local parents, many of them illustrated with photos of toddlers pedaling plastic tricycles on the walkway, or teenagers chasing Frisbees on the grassy strip by the river.
Richard Vassallo currently resides at the marine services company he operates in Cocoa. His planned relocation to Merritt Island will be determined January 5th.
Judge Earp allowed the State to amend the violation charges against Vassallo to include the claim of illegal proximity to the park. Sunset Ridge residents are gearing up to do battle at the next hearing set for January 5th.
“It seems like he has all the rights and we have none!” complained H.O.A. President Atkins, “I don’t want to see this happen in any other community.”
She spoke with the Guardian via telephone today.
Richard Ceasar Vassallo could not anticipate any of this when he sexually assaulted a ten year-old Rockledge girl back in 2007. When his lawyers told him he would not go to prison if he agreed to a lifetime under supervision he was, no doubt, relieved. But now he faces living that lifetime, whatever time is left to him, in the presence of vigilant parents who refuse to compromise the safety of their kids.
Richard Vassallo’s Arrest Report:vassallo
UPDATE: WFTV coverage of Predator Near Park
Sex offender should not be allowed to live near private park, residents say