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Stray bullet finds woman watching fireworks display from yacht club

ST. PETERSBURG — A woman watching fireworks from a second-floor balcony of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club was hit by a falling bullet shortly after midnight Tuesday.

Laurie Eberhardt, 67, was taken to Bayfront Medical Center, where doctors removed what St. Petersburg police are calling a "large-caliber" bullet from her right wrist. They think the bullet came from a rifle that someone fired in the air to celebrate the New Year.

"I was extremely lucky that the bullet, which fell from the sky as downtown St. Petersburg's celebration took place, did not cause a more serious injury or even my death," Eberhardt said in a statement.

Both Eberhardt and her husband, Henry, are retirees who moved to St. Petersburg from the Holyoke, Mass., area a year ago. They were watching the fireworks with others on the balcony when Laurie Eberhardt felt something strike her about 12:03 a.m., her husband said.

"She looked down and saw the entry hole and the bleeding and said, 'I've been shot,' " said Henry Eberhardt, 73. For a second, her companions tried to understand what she had just said.

"It's not something you're going to hear people say all the time," Henry Eberhardt said.

Then the couple with them, a retired physician and his wife, took action as several people called 911, he said. The friends got Laurie Eberhardt seated and applied ice and pressure to the wound. Rescue crews arrived and took her to Bayfront.

Eberhardt was released about three hours later. She was still feeling pain Tuesday, her husband said.

"This has been one of the most horrifying experiences of my life," Laurie Eberhardt said in her statement.

An investigation is ongoing, said police spokesman Mike Puetz.

The shooting comes a year after a similar injury to Diego Duran, then 12, who was struck in the head by a bullet while watching New Year's fireworks outside his family's Ruskin home.

Diego and his family formed the nonprofit group Bullet Free Sky to raise awareness of the dangers of celebratory gunfire.

During a Fourth of July fireworks display in Safety Harbor last year, a 74-year-old Clearwater man was struck by a stray 9mm bullet that entered his nose and went out his chin before ricochetting off a metal dog tag around his neck.

"I was extremely lucky the bullet came down the way it did," Richard Smeraldo said last week at a news conference held with Diego to urge people to celebrate the New Year without gunfire.

While police do not know where the bullet that struck Eberhardt came from, they could match it to the gun that fired it if evidence led them to that weapon, Puetz said.

In recent years, police have noted more injuries caused by gunshots into the air. In Jacksonville on Monday, an 8-year-old boy was hit in the foot with a bullet from celebratory gunfire just before midnight. A man in Miami also was grazed by a bullet.

"There appear to be more and more stories of this nature," Puetz said. "It's obviously in the public mind now about this type of issue. But we still run into the situation where, unfortunately, some members of the public are not getting the message."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248.

Stray bullet finds woman watching fireworks display from yacht club 01/01/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 1, 2013 11:15pm]
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