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Police had time to process shootout scene, Foster says

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Bill Foster left a voice mail message Tuesday night objecting to a St. Petersburg Times story that raised questions about his decision to demolish the home where two police officers were shot and killed last week.

The Times reported that Foster ordered the home's immediate demolition after the body of the dead suspect, Hydra Lacy, was removed. Much of the story — which appeared in the newspaper Wednesday and on tampabay.com Tuesday night — was based on Foster's public comments from last week because he did not return calls during the work day Tuesday.

Instead, Foster called a reporter's desk phone at 9:29 p.m. Tuesday after reading the story on tampabay.com.

"Like I always said, don't let the facts stand in the way of a good story," he said in the message. "I think I told you this before, but I'll say it again. I did not order the immediate demolition of this house. My instruction to (police Chief Chuck Harmon) and the forensics gatherers were as soon as they released the crime scene, which is after they completed the investigation — that is the photographs, that's the measurements, that's the diagrams — all of which we have in an active investigation, that's when the demolition was to occur.

"This is an active investigation, we have all the information that we need to re-enact the scene of the crime and to come up with exactly what happened," Foster said. "But it is an active crime scene. As soon as it was released, that's when the demolition occurred. You make it sound like we destroyed evidence, which is completely erroneous. And you keep going back to that. I thought I would set the record straight, not that you care."

Foster's message seems to provide more details than previously released about efforts to preserve evidence at the scene. However, he did not return calls Wednesday seeking more information.

Police have said investigators sifted through the remains of the house as it was picked apart until about 7 p.m., when a track-hoe began total demolition.

It can take days or weeks to adequately process a crime scene, said David Walcher, sheriff's bureau chief of Arapahoe County, Colo., who was incident commander at the Columbine shootings.

In the wake of the Jan. 24 shooting, Foster said he ordered the house to be torn down for several reasons, including because it posed a safety hazard and could lead to civil unrest. He did cite evidence as a concern.

"So I ordered my crews to go in there, and as expeditiously as possible, recognizing the evidence-gathering importance, to bring it down," he told reporters.

He later added that called his public works administrator, Mike Connors, to tell him he wanted the house and rubble "removed by nightfall." Work was complete 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Later that day, police spokesman Bill Proffitt said Foster's decision "hinders, to some degree, our forensics of the rubble," but referred further demolition questions to the mayor.

Seven dump trucks hauled 48 loads of the rubble more than a mile away, where investigators sifted through it the next day.

"There were 30 detectives and evidence gatherers who went through the debris," Foster said Jan. 25. "It was therapeutic for them."

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

Police had time to process shootout scene, Foster says 02/02/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 3, 2011 1:52pm]
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