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Lacy family to officers' families: 'We're deeply sorry'

ST. PETERSBURG

He apologized until his voice was drowned out by tears.

A day after his brother killed two St. Petersburg police officers, Darrell Lacy said his family was "deeply sorry for the families" of Sgt. Thomas J. Baitinger and Officer Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz.

"I would like to say on behalf of the Lacy family that we are sorry for what happened," Darrell Lacy said Tuesday in a phone call to the St. Petersburg Times.

Baitinger and Yaslowitz were shot to death Monday when an attempt to arrest wanted fugitive Hydra Lacy Jr. turned into a series of deadly shoot-outs, heroic rescues and a dramatic siege on a neighborhood street.

The Lacy siblings of local boxing legend Jeff Lacy also say they have no illusions about how their oldest brother met his end.

"He committed a horrible act that should have been punished," Darrell Lacy said. "That was the ultimate price that he paid."

Baitinger and Yaslowitz both were married. Yaslowitz also left behind three children and his canine partner, Ace.

While their families and colleagues grieved, the investigation continued Tuesday, and officials released new details about the deadly shoot-out and its aftermath — including that 10 officers had fired their weapons at Lacy during the ordeal. All were placed on paid leave, which is routine after a police shooting. They will be returned to duty after they are deemed fit by the department — and by counselors.

Funeral arrangements for the slain officers were still incomplete. Officials ruled out the weekend, however, because Tampa police officers — who would attend the service in great numbers — have to work at Gasparilla on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the city's police force tried to move forward after the first loss of an officer in more than 30 years.

"The mood is still somber in the department," said police Chief Chuck Harmon. "But the men and women are going out and performing their jobs."

• • •

The department on Tuesday continued to review the harrowing events from the day before, as did the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, another standard practice.

Yaslowitz, a 39-year-old K-9 officer, and a deputy U.S. marshal were both shot at 7:29 a.m. while climbing into an attic to arrest Lacy. Yaslowitz was critically wounded and fell in the attic, while the injured marshal fell to the ground.

Baitinger, a 48-year-old patrol sergeant, was one of the officers who attempted a rescue minutes later. They reached the marshal but couldn't get to Yaslowitz.

The suspect fired through the ceiling at them. Baitinger was fatally wounded and evacuated, too.

Yaslowitz wasn't rescued until two hours later when a SWAT team stormed into the house. Both officers later died. Police then spent hours tearing holes into the house, looking for the killer.

The body of 39-year-old convict Hydra Lacy Jr. was found seven hours later amid the rubble of the 3734 28th Ave. S home he had deeded to his estranged wife, Christine Lacy.

Yaslowitz and the marshal, who survived the encounter, were working in tandem when they climbed a ladder and went up into the tight attic space to arrest Lacy, police said.

The K-9 officer had his .40-caliber Glock semi-automatic pistol drawn. The marshal had his Taser out. It's a common arrest tactic, police said, that allows officers the option to subdue a foe or use deadly force if necessary.

The suspect's wife warned the officers that her husband was armed and hiding in the attic, police said. But the chief said Tuesday that he would not second-guess their decision to go up into the 3-foot, 2-inch tall crawl space attic to get the 6-foot-4, 290-pound man.

"Anybody who's worn a gun and a badge has stuck their head in an attic, gone into a dark room, gone into a dark building," Harmon said. "You assess those risks as an individual … and you make those tactical decisions. These weren't new rookies. They had over a decade of service and they knew what they were doing.

"Their mission was to go get the bad guy and that's what they did. There's probably not an officer here who hasn't taken some risk to get the bad guy."

• • •

Police have not yet said whether Lacy was killed by police or by his own hand.

But on Tuesday police said that they found two handguns they think belonged to Lacy. They were in the rubble of the house where Lacy made his last stand, rubble that was carted away after Mayor Bill Foster ordered what was left of the home destroyed. Those guns will be traced to try to determine their origins.

The 30 detectives who searched through the debris Tuesday also found the marshal's Taser and Yaslowitz's firearm, spare magazine and flashlight.

The chief defended the decision to use the battering rams of police tanks to rip the house apart looking for the suspect.

"It was decided it was the safest way to extricate him from this house," he said.

But it also left residents upset and astonished that an entire house had to be demolished in the standoff. Ashley Collins, 25, went to the now-empty lot Tuesday morning after witnessing the standoff. "Wow, it's really gone," she said. "Damn, the whole house is really gone."

People visited the scene throughout the day. Some came out of their homes to check it out. Others pulled up in their cars, slowing as they passed.

Back at the police station, a large array of flowers and cards had been left by residents in honor of the slain officers. But at the site of the standoff, a much smaller makeshift memorial had been erected by Tuesday evening — this one for Lacy.

People wrote messages to him in the hard-packed dirt. One woman arrived and wrote "Love You Hide" underneath a small bouquet of flowers.

The mayor said he ordered the demolition because the house was a health and safety hazard that couldn't be saved — and a grim reminder of Monday's toll. As for those bruised feelings?

"I can't help that," Foster said.

• • •

The Lacy family felt more than grief on Tuesday. They were also angry at Christine Lacy, the estranged wife of Hydra Lacy Jr.

The suspect was a fugitive for failing to appear in court on charges that he battered his wife. A registered sex offender, he was also wanted for failing to keep his address current with the state.

The police said Christine Lacy cooperated, telling them her husband was armed and hiding in the attic. But the Lacy family wonders if she shared a critical piece of information with those officers: Her husband had vowed he never would go back to prison. "She could have warned them, well before it came to this," said Darrell Lacy, 38.

Christine Lacy could not be reached for comment. But on Tuesday the mayor called her a "victim" who cooperated fully.

In a brief interview with Bay News 9, Christine Lacy expressed sympathy to the officers' families, but took no questions.

Darrell Lacy said the family is also at odds with her over their brother's final arrangements. As his legal spouse she has chosen to have him cremated, the family said, against their wishes.

"We would like to bury him," the brother said.

Times staff writers Emily Nipps, Rita Farlow, Curtis Krueger, Danny Valentine and Stephen Nohlgren contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

Lacy family to officers' families: 'We're deeply sorry' 01/25/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 2:37pm]
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