An ailing immigrant commits suicide after condo association bans his support dog

Sergey (left) and Alex Peklun
Sergey (left) and Alex Peklun

The hope Sergey Peklun sought in America ended last year with a homeowner dispute that his family claims cost him his life.

A Russian army veteran, Peklun was called back into service in the Ukraine after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown in 1986 to help relocate civilians. He was exposed to nuclear fallout that led to multiple health problems, his family said.

Coming to the United States in 1996, Peklun worked as a security guard until his deteriorating health forced him to go on disability in 2011.

As his wife, Viktoria, and their son, Alex, worked at a flea market in Florida to support the family, Sergey began to suffer from health problems such as hypertension and kidney failure in addition to depression and anxiety.

Sergey’s doctor recommended that he get an emotional support animal. He adopted Julia, a 9-pound hypoallergenic Morkie — a cross between a Maltese and a Yorkshire terrier.

“He would take that dog everywhere with him,” Alex Peklun wrote in an online post last year.

Though Sergey lived in a condo in Boca Raton that had a no-pet policy, the Tierra Del Mar Condominium Association board granted approval in late 2011 for Julia, according to a lawsuit.

But in 2012, another condo owner complained that the dog was aggravating his allergies, and the new board president said there was no record of Julia ever being approved.

During a complex legal battle, a judge ordered Julia’s removal, but Peklun couldn’t bear being away from his dog. His attorney, Peter Wallis, told him he was probably going to be found in contempt for violating the injunction.

Wallis said Peklun went into convulsions while in the law office and spent one night in a hospital.

On the morning of the February 2015 contempt hearing, Wallis said, Peklun climbed into a bathtub and put a bullet in his heart.

“Having to go through this was tough on him physically and emotionally,” Alex Peklun wrote.

Wallis said Peklun “was an absolutely delightful man — very, very quiet, very conscientious.” Julia, he said, “was everything to him.”

The Pekluns sued the condo association and the former board president, alleging a violation of the Fair Housing Act and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

In court documents, the association denied violating Peklun’s rights and said it bore no responsibility for his death. The former board president in court filings “specifically and emphatically” denied that her conduct caused or contributed to Peklun’s suicide.

The lawsuit was settled in June.

The family’s attorney, Jack Sobel, called the case an abomination.

“To come to America, where it’s supposed to be the land of the free and justice for all, and to see it go so badly sideways and cause such distress and misery,” he said, “is just a complete travesty.”

Judy L. Thomas: 816-234-4334, @judylthomas