RUSH - More Details Surface On Alex Lifeson’s Arrest

January 12, 2004, 20 years ago

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According to the Naples Daily News (, two international recording artists from very different eras were in the ballroom of the posh Ritz-Carlton Naples New Year's Eve's bash: One rang in the new year in a jail cell; the other was left wondering what happened.

Freddy Cole, the 71-year-old younger brother of the late, legendary performer NAT KING COLE, was hired to play the $650-a-couple, black-tie event, where a dispute began between the lead guitarist for the rock group, RUSH, and Collier County Sheriff's deputies.

Cole has been nominated for a Grammy Award and has played Carnegie Hall. He is known for his deep-voiced jazz love songs. He's an entertainer who performs "at a crossroads between cabaret, jazz and blues," according to Ben Ratliff of the New York Times.

Cole said he had no idea that the man in a white suit who jumped onto the stage where he was performing was the son of the lead guitarist for the internationally known Canadian rock band, Rush.

The son's action started a chain of events that resulted in a clash between deputies and Alex Zivojinovich, known on stage in Rush as Alex Lifeson, as well as his son, Justin.

Cole said over his decades of performing, he has seen his share of people walk up on stage and act crazy, and he usually tries to ignore them, just as he did that night.

"The less you say, the better," the 71-year-old said. "I have learned over the years not to lend credence to people acting crazy, and to continue doing what I'm doing."

Likewise, Cole said he tried to tune out Justin Zivojinovich's remarks after he grabbed the microphone.

"He said something like, 'How about a nice round of applause for this Count Basie.' I wouldn't even look up. He knew damn well my name ain't Count Basie."

He said he clearly remembers Justin Zivojinovich being extremely intoxicated.

"You could see the way he was stumbling all over the dance floor," he said.

Cole recalled another person in a dark suit getting onstage with Justin Zivojinovich before the microphone was turned off.

Alex Zivojinovich was wearing a dark suit that night, but Cole said he did not know whether the Rush guitarist was the other person who went up onstage. Cole said he has never even heard of the group, Rush, let alone seen the guitarist's face.

"I thought they were talking about Rush Limbaugh," Cole said.

Tina Osceola, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's department, said some other witnesses remember another person wearing a dark suit going onstage, but investigators do not believe it was the Rush guitarist. She said it might have been hotel security or an employee.

Cole said he doubts that many of the guests who attended the event were aware of the scuffle that ensued outside the hotel ballroom.

However, he said, some of guests didn't take kindly to the dance moves of the Zivojinovich party.

"I know when they came up and started dancing all over the dance floor, several people left. ... They were doing some gyrations, I guess having a good time," he said.

He said he first learned of the brawl between deputies and the rock star and his son when he was having a drink after his performance.

"I said, 'Where (did it happen)?' It was so hush-hush. I didn't know anything about it. I don't think the guests did either. When you work in places that serve alcohol, anything is subject to happen. I wouldn't think it would happen at the Ritz-Carlton."

The arrest of Zivojinovich has garnered international media attention, with Rush fans throughout the country now questioning whether this was a case of police brutality.

Zivojinovich left the Collier County jail on Jan. 2 with dried blood spattered over the front of his white shirt, a swollen nose that he said was broken, and dark circles under his eyes.

Arrest reports allege that the Rush guitarist intervened when deputies were escorting his son off the property after he refused to leave the stage where Cole's band was performing.

They state that Justin Zivojinovich told hotel security supervisor Frank Barner, "(Expletive) off, I'm going to sing my wife a (expletive) song."

Barner said Friday he could not comment.

The sheriff's department accuses Alex Zivojinovich of throwing a female deputy down a flight of stairs backward, causing her injuries, and of spitting blood in another deputy's face. Deputies said they had to use stun guns to subdue the singer and his son.

This week, Collier County Sheriff Don Hunter put out a statement defending the sheriff's department. He stated that he is personally reviewing reports of the incident and talking to deputies who were on the scene.

"Some of Alex Zivojinovich's 'fans' have spoken out on his behalf, and in doing so, have attacked this agency, the individual deputies, and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, as well as the community in which we live and serve," Hunter said in the prepared statement that is posted on the agency's web page. "None of the fans appear to have been present as witnesses.

"Premature, emotional, conclusive statements by the public, this agency, or the media are ill advised and frequently wrong. This agency is a nationally and state-accredited law enforcement agency with proven policy and procedure in place...."

Sheriff's investigators are not releasing at this time any other statements made by the many witnesses to the altercation, such as hotel employees, Osceola said.

"There are quite a few witnesses, and the department is looking over hotel security tapes to see whether the incident was caught on tape," she said. "There were many people in that stairwell. Remember, as deputies were trying to take Justin away, an entourage came flooding in behind them. I'm not sure who a lot of them were. We had to get rid of most of them to deal with the altercation that was the most volatile."

The sheriff's department is getting a slew of e-mails from irate Rush fans who believe the singer was the victim of police abuse.

"We're getting a lot of Rush fans being completely foul (in the messages)," Osceola said. "I know the city of Naples police department is getting them. The county is getting them. I don't know what they (the fans) think they are proving. Maybe they hope they will get an autograph-signed copy of his booking sheet, I don't know."

Suzanne Willis, a spokesperson for the hotel, said the hotel is also being criticized by some Rush fans.

"There is a definite misunderstanding that we were the ones pressing charges. We have not done that," she said. "Basically, this entire event is very unfortunate, and nothing like this has ever happened at our New Year's Eve event before."

With a world tour set to begin in May, Alex Zivojinovich will be allowed to travel anywhere despite the charges against him.

State prosecutors, who agreed to $14,500 bond set by a judge in Naples on Jan. 2, the day after the arrest, said state law doesn't require any restrictions on a defendant released from jail on bond. And prosecutors didn't ask the judge to confiscate Zivojinovich's passport.

"That's really something you go through the bondsman for," said Rich Montecalvo, the assistant state attorney who will handle the case. "It's up to him and the bondsman, as long as he shows up to court."

Mary and Jimmy's Bail Bonds in Naples is the company that paid Zivojinovich's bond, allowing the musician to leave the Collier County jail. Co-owner Mary L. Chacko-Minor said ordinarily her company limits a defendant's travel to within the five-county circuit.

But in Zivojinovich's case, as with many clients, exceptions are actually the norm. Usually a defendant will ask to travel elsewhere in Florida, often Disney World in Orlando, and the bondsman allows that but asks the client to check in at her office before he leaves and when he returns.

So she has faith Zivojinovich will return for mandatory court hearings, which can be weeks or even months apart. Many hearings are routine, and Zivojinovich's attorney can appear on his behalf without his presence.

"We don't care. We know he's going to come to court. His attorney will make sure he's back when he needs to be," Chacko-Minor said.

Jerry Berry, Zivojinovich's lawyer, is well-known and respected, Chacko-Minor said, and that plays a little part in allowing a high-profile musician to travel around the world on a tour.

Berry declined to comment on the case and referred all comments to SRO Management. "Usually, in general, when we bond someone out who lives in New York, we take cash collateral. We have to play the cash if they skip out," Chacko-Minor said.

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