LARGO — Two men in black clothes and masks burst out of a Blockbuster Video store they had just robbed, not knowing they were surrounded.
An undercover St. Petersburg police detective stood close to the door they had exited, his gun drawn. Other officers ringed the store.
But the robbers didn't stop. One aimed his .22-caliber revolver at the undercover detective, and the shooting began.
On Friday that detective came to court and described the robbery and shootout that left him injured and recuperating for months. It was dramatic testimony in the trial of Velislav Matzov, 20, accused of robbery and attempted murder in the case.
"I felt it in my abdomen and it was just like a ball of fire," the detective recalled. "I knew I was hit. I knew I couldn't get hit again."
The detective said he was among a group of officers from the department's Special Investigations Unit who were following a silver Volkswagen Passat on April 30, 2008, because they thought it had been involved in previous robberies. Three people in the car had driven near a Blockbuster store at 5100 66th St. N, north of St. Petersburg.
The detective, who is not being named in this story because he still works undercover, testified he was on foot when he saw two men get out of the Volkswagen and rush into the store. The black-clad men were carrying firearms. Radioing to the other plainclothes officers stationed in a perimeter around the store, the detective told them, "we need to tighten up, it's going to be a robbery."
He reached for his badge and hung it around his neck. He drew his gun, a .40-caliber Glock.
Inside the store, according to previous testimony, the two men forced the cashiers to get money out of the registers and put it in backpacks, and then took them to a back room.
One of the officers had a good look into the front of the store and could see the robbery unfold, but then lost sight of the robbers as they left the cash register area.
Meanwhile, the detective who testified Friday went to a side door of the Blockbuster and tried to peer in to get a better look. He was standing near a grassy retention area, beside a ramp leading out from the store. He couldn't see the robbers.
Without warning, the two intruders burst out the door and rushed down the ramp.
"Police!" the detective shouted.
One of the men reached his hand over the railing and began firing. The detective moved back and fired at the same time. He said the second shot, or maybe the third, hit him in the gut.
He kept shooting back, and to this day does not know how many rounds he fired.
"I finally shoot him and … I watched him fall to the ground. After that happened there was no more shooting."
But the other robber was running away, and the woman who had been driving the Passat was still in the car. Some of the officers went to arrest them.
The detective approached the man he had shot, who was on the ground with his .22-caliber revolver beside him, the mask still covering his face. He kept watch over the robber for a few moments until a fellow officer came to check on him.
Only then did he lie down on the ground. He fought to stay conscious, and did, all the way onto an ambulance and into the operating room.
After waking from surgery, he learned that besides the gunshot that seared into his stomach, he also had been shot in the arm. And his watch had been shot right off his wrist.
Total take from the would-be robbery: A little more than $300.
The detective received medical clearance to go back to work recently.
The trial of Matzov will resume Tuesday. The other man charged in the case, Joseph Hollings Jr., 20, pleaded guilty on Thursday and will be sentenced in October.
The driver, Danielle Karlau, 20, has pleaded guilty to two charges, and promised to testify against Matzov, if necessary. She is to be sentenced next month.