CLEARWATER — Kurt Baima heard banging Thursday morning and assumed someone was doing construction work on a neighbor’s house.
But then it occurred to him: What if it’s coming from my house?
He said he grabbed his 9mm Beretta semiautomatic pistol and checked around the Cleveland Street home he shares with a roommate. In the garage, he said, he came face to face with a man he’d never seen before.
Then he pulled the trigger.
The wounded man — later identified as 31-year-old William Kahle — was taken to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg with life-threatening injuries, according to Clearwater police.
The shooting was reported at 9:38 a.m., police said, and kicked off an investigation that closed off the block around Baima’s home at 1501 Cleveland St.
Kahle, who police said has "a lengthy criminal history," remained in critical condition Thursday night.
Baima, 52, would not say how many gunshots he fired. But the homeowner did give this account to the Tampa Bay Times:
It was a day off from his retail job, and Baima was sleeping in when he first heard the banging. He’s lived in the house since 1999 and said break-ins are common in the area. He didn’t know why Kahle targeted his home, entering through a door Baima said he had boarded up.
"At first … I didn’t think anything of it," Baima said. "It didn’t look like anyone was breaking in until I opened the door to the garage and there was somebody there just a couple feet away."
Baima said he’s owned his gun since 1990 and typically uses it for target shooting. He said he believes it was a justifiable case of self-defense. Clearwater police said that Baima was cooperating with the investigation and that police did not plan to charge him.
In the hours after the shooting, neighbors watched from behind yellow crime scene tape as officers walked in and out of the garage of the one-story, light green house. One of them, E.J. McNicholas, a resident of 50 years, said he didn’t hear or see the shooting but knew something was up when his Rhodesian ridgeback, Dixie, started barking.
"When she starts raising the devil, I come out and see what it is," McNicholas, 77, said. "Police were coming every which way."
Shayla Vasquez, 20, was sleeping at her home diagonally across from the shooting scene. Officers went by her house to question her and mentioned there had been a shooting, but she was surprised to hear police call it a home invasion.
"Oh, my God," she said. "They tried to do it in the morning?"
Clearwater police did not identify the gun owner in this case. Baima confirmed his involvement to the Times.
Kahle was taken by ambulance to the hospital, which is about a 20-mile drive. Authorities had requested a medical helicopter but it could not fly due to weather conditions, said Clearwater police spokesman Rob Shaw.
Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or [email protected] Follow @kathrynvarn.