The man who, with his family, launched a philanthropic program that became a back-to-school tradition in Hernando and Pasco counties is now facing multiple drug-related charges following his arrest by Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) personnel.
In 2014, Philip LaRossa, along with his then wife Jennifer and their children, launched the Operation Backpack Spring Hill program, which, with help from a range of sponsors, provided thousands of free backpacks containing school supplies to children in Hernando County and elsewhere. The program’s final backpack distribution occurred in 2021. LaRossa also served on the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Hernando Board of Directors in 2020–2021 and served on that organization’s 2022–2023 Advisory Board.
According to HCSO records, at approximately 11:16 p.m. on Oct. 10, a deputy responded to a report of a vehicle accident at St. Francis and Middleboro streets in Brooksville. At the scene, the deputy found that a 2006 gold Hyundai Azera sedan belonging to LaRossa had hit the side of the BEST Academy charter school building at 835 School St.
HCSO records say that as the deputy checked him for injuries, LaRossa, who was sitting in the driver seat, reached for his lighter on the floorboard. Afterward, in plain view of the deputy, LaRossa lit up and inhaled from a four-to-five-inch glass pipe. He was escorted out of his vehicle, placed in handcuffs, and read his Miranda rights.
During the subsequent search of his vehicle, deputies saw multiple crack cocaine rocks on the driver’s seat floorboard. The glass pipe and lighter were also found under the driver’s seat.
Cocaine rocks were field-tested positive for cocaine. They were weighed at the Hernando County Detention Center, yielding a total of 0.2 grams.
LaRossa was arrested and taken to Oak Hill Hospital to be medically cleared. After an examination, he was admitted for further treatment.
LaRossa, 52, was booked in the Hernando County Detention Center on one charge of felony possession of crack cocaine and one misdemeanor charge of possession and use of drug equipment.
He was unavailable for comment.
According to a source close to him, LaRossa has been battling addiction for 35 years. He has prior felony offenses, having been found guilty of burglary and grand theft in 2015. According to the arrest affidavit connected to the case, he stole $350 from the register and $150 from the tip jar at Hungry Howies on Spring Hill Drive, where he was previously employed.
LaRossa remains at the Hernando County Detention Center on a $3,000 bond. He will appear before Judge Daniel B. Merritt Jr. on Nov. 7 at 9:00 a.m. for an arraignment hearing.