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After shooting, St. Petersburg neighborhood fed up with late-night crowds that draw police

ST. PETERSBURG — The neighborhood calls them "thumpers" or "boomers."

As nightclubs close at 3 a.m., people flock in cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles around the Choice Food Store, 3401 Fifth Ave. S, thumping and booming loud music.

Neighbors estimate hundreds of people frequently gather there on weekends and some weeknights. They hang out, flirt, shout and scream. The crowds spill out into surrounding streets and properties, leave trash and break out into fights, neighbors said.

Police are often called — at least 150 times about crowds in the past year alone, records show.

Early Monday, the scene took a violent turn.

At 3:16 a.m., police said, shots rang out and a 31-year-old man was wounded in the shoulder. A police officer chased a fleeing Buick from the scene and shot two men after one of them pulled a gun, police said.

Neighbors say the late-night gatherings are a nuisance, and are getting out of control.

"I wish the police could do something," said Ruthann Miller, 48, who lives nearby. "It's getting really stupid."

Neighbors say vehicles fill the convenience store's parking lots and a vacant lot nearby. People spill into adjacent streets and onto the lots around a bail bond business and a pawnshop. They park behind vacant homes, of which there are many.

"It's like a big-a-- block party," said Charles McKinnon, who owns Sunshine State Bail Bonds two doors down. "It's getting worse and worse — somebody got shot."

He's worried an errant bullet will fly into his business.

"Now that this has happened and it's pretty much in my front door, something needs to be done," McKinnon said.

He added that police need to do a better job of crowd control.

Police have been called to the 24-hour Choice Food Store 250 times in the past year, according to police records, mostly for large crowds. They also have responded to reports of brawling and gunshots. The owner of Choice Food could not be reached for comment.

Monday's early-morning shooting is not the first — or the worst.

In 2005, 29-year-old Antonio D. Mackeroy was fatally shot in front of a glass shop at 3451 Fifth Ave. S., a few doors down from Choice Food. Police said several hundred people were hanging out about 2:30 a.m.

Neighbors said police frequently break up the crowds but it often takes complaints about noise before they do anything.

"They sit out there and watch them," said neighbor Lena Constable, 52. "It looks like there should be a carnival. It's outrageous. I don't understand why they can't stop it."

Neighbor William Jackson, 43, doesn't think the crowds are a problem. "To me, it's a lot of social gathering, but it isn't more," said Jackson. "It's just something they do to hang out."

There's not much police can do to keep crowds from forming if no one is breaking the law, said police spokesman Mike Puetz.

"It's a hard thing to prevent from a law enforcement standpoint," he said. "There's not a lot of tools there for us to prevent issues."

Police typically ask the crowd to disperse only if there's a safety issue, Puetz said.

Frequently police plan ahead if they know crowds will form, Puetz said, making their presence known and discouraging crowds from forming.

Several neighbors said police are usually parked when the group forms after the clubs close.

They say that's not enough.

"There needs to be more police presence," said McKinnon.

After shooting, St. Petersburg neighborhood fed up with late-night crowds that draw police 09/13/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 8:52am]

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