After almost thirty years on the job, Vladislav "Sam" Samsonov was both widely known and dearly beloved by those who regularly commuted across Boca Grande Causeway.
But now, as a consequence of the same qualities of kindness and generosity that endeared him to so many, he’s been let go.
Samsonov charged a trailer driver too little this past week. Once he realized his mistake—which was a small one, anyway, especially when one considers the 30 years of efficient service he’s provided—he amended it quietly. He paid the missing five dollars owed out of his own pocket. This wasn’t the first time he’d done so. He’d help out once in a while, when a driver didn’t have enough cash.
True, it was against Authority policy, but Samsonov maintains that he did nothing wrong.
“In my eyes, there was no crime committed. I just helped somebody out.”
Initially, Samsonov’s supervisors meant to punish him by reducing his workload to two days a week, from five, but Samsonov maintained his integrity.
“If I can’t be trusted for five days, how can I be trusted for two days?”
And so he was terminated.
Seventy-seven-year-old Samsonov wasn’t just a veteran toll collector; he was a military veteran, too. And his desire to serve his country didn’t end with his military service. The toll collection job wasn’t about the money, for him. 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.”
“They were my family.”
These small gestures were not forgotten. In the aftermath of the Samsonov’s firing, he received a flood of online support. Jason Rice, a daily commuter, recalled Samsonov’s kindness:
"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 well with me, what happened.”
Boca Grande business owner Blanche Vedette expressed similar sentiments:
"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.”
"I just want him to know how much we really do care about him and how he will be missed.”
Samsonov says he is overwhelmed by the support and love he’s received:
"Makes me feel good, makes me want to cry. But bite your tongue and you'll be ok.”
But he’s not sure that he wants his job back, given what he’s been put through.