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Car, church in St. Petersburg struck in bullet-riddled mystery

St. Petersburg police Officer P. Patterson collects evidence, including fingerprints, near a church where a Lexus riddled with bullets was abandoned in a parking lot on 18th Avenue S. The car was reported stolen on Friday.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

St. Petersburg police Officer P. Patterson collects evidence, including fingerprints, near a church where a Lexus riddled with bullets was abandoned in a parking lot on 18th Avenue S. The car was reported stolen on Friday.

ST. PETERSBURG — An apparent car chase ended in a church parking lot Monday, leaving behind an empty charcoal-gray Lexus riddled with bullet holes and three other crime scenes, police said.

One bullet tore through a Sunday school window at Rock of Jesus Missionary Baptist Church, where the chase ended. No one was in the church at the time.

The Lexus, reported stolen Friday, was abandoned by a wooden fence behind the church at 3940 18th Ave. S., just a few hundred yards from the back of Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School.

There were nearly two dozen bullet holes in the car's trunk and two in the rear window.

A police technician said he collected at least 20 spent shell casings at the church. At least one was fired by an assault rifle. Police did not identify the type of weapon used.

It was not the only report of gunfire linked to the Lexus SC430, which police said was stolen Friday from Jonathan Gracy, 43, of 2570 Oakdale St. S.

Police initially responded at 9:53 a.m. to reports of gunshots at 23rd Avenue S and 47th Street.

They found nothing.

Two minutes later, a hit-and-run was reported at 22nd Avenue S and 38th Street. Keefe Vernon Grover, 45, of 8050 36th Ave. N told police he was driving west on 22nd Avenue S when he was rear-ended by a blue vehicle. Grover pulled into a parking lot and told police that the car that struck him continued through the grass onto school property.

The calls continued: 10:22 a.m., shots fired at 4669 23rd Ave. S; 11:10 a.m., more shots fired at the church at 3940 18th Ave S. No victims were found.

Earl Craft, 47, paused between trips from his car and the home he was moving into Monday, gazing across the street at four police cars surrounding the Lexus. His own car's windshield was hit by bullets a few weeks ago.

"I'm about to leave this place,'' said Craft, who has lived in St. Petersburg all his life. "Back in the day, it wasn't like this. It's way too dangerous now."

The shooting occurred just two weeks after an 8-year-old girl, Paris Whitehead-Hamilton, was shot to death when her home was riddled with more than 50 bullets fired from high-powered assault rifles. Police said the assailants were targeting a rival gang member who lived in the home.

Three suspects have been arrested in connection with that shooting.

Car, church in St. Petersburg struck in bullet-riddled mystery 04/20/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 21, 2009 7:08am]
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