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Latest troubles at BayWalk isolated, St. Petersburg officials say, not a trend

ST. PETERSBURG — Downtown got rowdier than usual this weekend when a fight broke out in front of Baywalk early Saturday morning, sending one person to the hospital.

Two hours later, in a separate incident, police arrested a man for disorderly intoxication and vandalism on First Avenue N.

While police Chief Chuck Harmon called the incidents exceptions on a busy night, they both touched on issues that City Council will consider next week: BayWalk's health and whether to extend drinking hours to 3 a.m.

In the earlier incident, 20-year-old Sebring resident Cody Bunting walked by BayWalk at about 12:20 a.m.

According to a police report, a crowd of teens had just come out of a movie at the Muvico Theaters.

Someone yelled "cracker." When Bunting turned around, he was punched several times. The crowd ran away and no arrests were made. The report described Bunting's injuries as minor, redness to the face and a scrape to the right elbow. It said Bunting gave a statement before he was taken to Bayfront Medical Center.

But on Monday, Bunting said he was knocked unconscious.

Bunting was attacked near the sidewalk the City Council voted to cede to BayWalk officials, who said they wanted to control it to ban teens and protestors so patrons feel safer.

Mayor Bill Foster said BayWalk officials, who could not be reached, were briefed about the fight Monday. Harmon said BayWalk had hired off duty police officers, as they have done for years, who responded quickly.

On April 15, BayWalk representatives will give a long-awaited update on the status of the complex, which is now about 80 percent vacant.

Emil Pavone, president of the Downtown Residents Civic Association, said the fight didn't make him doubt BayWalk's progress.

"(It) was an isolated incident," he said.

At about 2:10 a.m. Saturday and two blocks away from BayWalk, police arrested 21-year-old William Uicker, of Redington Beach, on charges of disorderly intoxication, criminal mischief and resisting arrest without violence. Uicker had walked into Ratchada Thai Restaurant, a police report said, with blood on his face and no shirt. It was closed, but Uicker wouldn't leave. He flipped a table and smashed glasses, the report said.

Uicker said Monday he wasn't drunk. His mother, Luann Uicker, said a group of teens had beaten him up. He acted strangely because he was confused and scared, she said.

The co-owner of Ratchada Thai, Sua Masapirom, pushed Uicker out the door that night and said Uicker seemed drunk. The restaurateur said such behavior is the norm for First Friday, a monthly event that closes Central Avenue between Second and Third streets.

"First Friday is so crazy," Masapirom said. "People walk around and go to nightclubs and hang out later than they normally do."

If the council decides April 15 to extend closing time to 3 a.m, then that will mean more police at night, Harmon said.

Harmon said he'll need to shift patrol officers from early afternoon shifts. Foster said he'll approve any adjustments necessary.

"I've seen fights in downtown Disney, that doesn't mean it's unsafe," Foster said. "Whatever direction council goes in, we'll make sure we address any public safety concerns."

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or mvansickler@sptimes.com

Latest troubles at BayWalk isolated, St. Petersburg officials say, not a trend 04/05/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 6, 2010 8:21am]
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