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Fatal shooting in St. Petersburg leads to high-speed chase

ST. PETERSBURG — Tremell Mitchell had nothing to do with the fight outside his grandmother's house Monday night. He had nothing to do with the drug deal that precipitated it, police said. He just went outside with his grandmother to see what was going on.

But when shots rang out, the 22-year-old bystander was the only one to collapse on the street, fatally wounded.

Mitchell died at a hospital soon afterward. It was just the start of what would become a violent 24 hours in the city.

The next night, officers said, a car drove past the grandmother's home. Someone aimed a gun at Mitchell's family, police said.

It was a "retaliatory act," according to St. Petersburg police, connected to Mitchell's slaying. Police had already been receiving reports of car chases and shots fired between rival factions.

But when the same car drove past again, officers were waiting. That led to a high-speed chase Tuesday night as police cruisers pursued the suspects through the city. It ended when the suspects crashed in an alley off 16th Avenue S.

The suspects tried to hide inside a house but soon surrendered to the heavily armed officers who surrounded them.

Investigators were still piecing together the slaying and pursuit and revealed few details about either.

Has a suspect in the murder been identified? Who were the men captured Tuesday? How are the two incidents connected? Those are questions police have yet to answer.

Mitchell's family has a question of their own: Why him?

"He never bothered anyone," said grandfather James Smith, 59. "He was just 22, still a baby. He didn't even raise his voice.

"He was just getting started in life, and now he's gone."

• • •

Mitchell was respectful, soft-spoken and hard working, his aunt said. He was employed at the Walmart Supercenter on 34th Street S.

His girlfriend was pregnant with his first child. The baby girl was due next month. Father and daughter would have been born in the same month. Mitchell would have turned 23 on June 13.

"When you say someone has a heart of gold," said his aunt Andrea Mitchell, 43, "he had a heart of gold."

Then came Monday's shooting. It happened at 4651 20th Ave. S, about 10:45 p.m.

Two groups were fighting over a marijuana deal, police said. They exchanged words, then scuffled.

Both sides were known to Mitchell, police said. He went outside with his grandmother to see what they were arguing about.

The combatants separated, police said, but their dispute wasn't over. As one side drove away, someone opened fire on the crowd. Mitchell and his grandmother scrambled for cover.

But the 22-year-old was hit at least once in the upper body. Police wouldn't say how many shots were fired or from what kind of weapon. The victim's family said there may have been as many as eight gunshots fired when Mitchell was hit.

"He was just trying to get away," said police spokesman Bill Proffitt.

• • •

Then came Tuesday. A car rolled past the victim's house, police said, and aimed a weapon at the occupants about 6:40 p.m.

Mitchell's family said they heard something akin to gunshots or firecrackers. The whole block ran for cover. Police could not confirm those details.

When the car went by the house again, officers closed in. A police supervisor authorized a high-speed chase. Under the city's new pursuit rules, officers can now chase suspects who commit a "forcible felony" — as long as conditions don't endanger the public.

No one was injured in the chase, police said, and the suspects were in custody by 8 p.m. They ended up a short drive from where Mitchell was shot the night before.

As of late Tuesday night, police had detained three men and arrested a fourth on outstanding warrants. But police could not say who was involved in the threats, nor would they say if they recovered any weapons.

Officers were out in force at the scene of the crash late Tuesday and outside the home of Mitchell's grandmother.

He was his mother's only child, his family said.

"The problem is, these young men and their guns," said Smith, the grandfather. "They think they're invulnerable. They think they can do anything they want."

Times staff writer Katie Sanders contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

Police seek tips

about shooting

Anyone with information about this incident can call (727) 892-5000 or text St. Petersburg police at (727) 420-8911. Callers can remain anonymous.

Fatal shooting in St. Petersburg leads to high-speed chase 05/05/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 5, 2010 1:39am]
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