Thursday, April 19, 2018
Public safety

Falling bullets strike man, pierce roof on July Fourth in St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG — Susan Tuttle thought she heard a gunshot — not fireworks — in her neighborhood late Thursday night.

When she woke early Friday, the 55-year-old discovered she was right: She found a hole in her ceiling and a bullet lodged in her bamboo table.

"That's where my cat sleeps," Tuttle said. "I'm just glad it was raining, and Gizzy was away from the windows."

Officers believe the bullet came from someone who fired a rifle into the sky to celebrate the Fourth of July, said St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz.

"Kids were outside running around," said Tuttle, who lives in the 4000 block of 11th Avenue N. "They could have easily been hurt. It's just crazy."

About 10 p.m. Thursday, another bullet fell from the sky about 3 miles from Tuttle's home at 10th Avenue S and 16th Street.

Police said the bullet hit Robert Anthony Turner, 38, who was taken to Bayfront Medical Center with cuts on his neck and right eyebrow. The injuries were not life threatening.

Officers didn't find the bullet or the person who fired it. Turner could not be reached for comment Friday.

Law enforcement officials throughout Tampa Bay pleaded with residents this year not to fire guns in the air on the Fourth of July. Celebratory fire is illegal, Puetz said, and has caused several injuries in the area in recent years.

"We have to repeat the same things over and over again," he said. "It's now just a case of people acting irresponsibly and not caring about the consequences."

On New Year's Eve, 67-year-old Laurie Eberhardt was hit in the wrist by a falling bullet as she watched fireworks from the second-story balcony of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club. She was treated at a local hospital.

Last July Fourth, 75-year-old Richard Smeraldo was watching fireworks in Safety Harbor when he thought someone had smashed his nose with a baseball bat. A falling bullet had clipped through the bill of his hat, struck his nose and exited through his nostril. He was stitched up at a local hospital.

Diego Duran, a 12-year-old from Ruskin, was hit in the head by a falling bullet while he watched fireworks at his family's home on New Year's Eve two years ago.

He sustained brain damage and was, at first, unable to remember his mom's name. He lost his sense of smell. After multiple surgeries, he has recovered but still has occasional trouble with short-term memory.

His mother, Sandy Duran, launched a public awareness campaign called Bullet Free Sky. On Wednesday, as her son stood beside her, she asked revelers not to fire guns into the air.

"A lot of the things we hear are 'My grandfather used to do it,' or 'My uncle did it,' " she said. "We want people to know that when they pull that trigger, they can take someone's life."

Times staff writer Kameel Stanley contributed to this report. Danielle Paquette can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4224.

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