Officer David Crawford was hardworking, with soft spot for domestic violence victims

ST. PETERSBURG — Sarah Reinhart met patrol Officer David Crawford as she arrived Monday morning for her barista shift at Kahwa, a downtown coffee shop.

Someone had thrown a large rock through the glass door during the night. The cash register was missing, and Crawford was investigating.

He was a big, calm man with a direct manner, and Reinhart, 30, expressed what many St. Petersburg residents are feeling these days about the men and women who protect the community.

"I told him how sorry I was that those officers were killed,'' Reinhart said, referring to two St. Petersburg officers killed last month in a shootout. Crawford said they were his friends.

"I told him, 'Thank you so much for your service and what you do,' " Reinhart said. "And he said, 'When it's your time to go, it's your time to go.

"You can't really think about it too hard.' "

Crawford's time would come just hours later.

He responded to a call about a burglary suspect carrying a brick near Tropicana Field's parking lot. Authorities have not released details of what transpired, other than Crawford exchanged gunfire with a slender young man and was pronounced dead at Bayfront Medical Center.

He was 46, a 25-year veteran of the force and left a wife, Donna, and 24-year-old daughter, Amanda.

"He was an old-school guy, close to the vest,'' said fellow Officer Eric Holmes. "You had to earn his respect, but once you did, he was a loyal friend.''

Holmes and Crawford were among a handful of officers dubbed the "Midnight Marauders'' because they preferred working through the night.

"He worked the midnight shift most of his career,'' Holmes said. "The pace is different, traffic is slower,'' and officers have more chances to follow up on their own investigations.

Crawford's "niche'' was domestic violence calls. Some officers don't care for them, Holmes said, but Crawford had a knack for calming people and reassuring victims that he would help them through the cumbersome court process.

"He was a particularly compassionate officer,'' said Linda Osmundson, director of CASA, a St. Petersburg program that helps domestic violence victims. "Lots of time, victims don't show up for court. The abusers have talked to them or they get scared. This officer took time to make sure the victim was reassured he would be there. It's a big deal.''

Crawford was adopted at birth, the only child of Seminole residents Johnson and Ruth Crawford, then 45 and 32. Johnson Crawford, who died in 2007, was a retired Navy chief petty officer. Ruth Johnson, who died in November, worked as a nurse at Bay Pines VA Medical Center.

"He was a great guy. He was quiet, funny and trustworthy,'' said Gina Engerer, who graduated from Seminole High School with Crawford in 1982 and attended the same church youth group.

Engerer, 46, became a Pinellas County sheriff's deputy after leaving high school. Crawford attended Johnson Bible College in Knoxville, Tenn., before being hired by the St. Petersburg department in 1984. He was sworn in as an officer in 1985.

They sometimes ran into each other at Pinellas County's criminal courthouse on 49th Street.

"He loved his job,'' said Engerer. Nevertheless, when she told him in 2009 that she was retiring, he said, "Good for you. I'm glad. You should get out while you can."

Just before joining the force, Crawford married Lori Phillips, who worked in a jewelry store. He also began moonlighting at her father's tile and marble contract business during off hours.

They had a daughter, Amanda, and he had another family mission as well: to find his biological mother.

Crawford was born to a young Virginia woman who got pregnant at 16. She came to Florida, gave birth and later married a man named Lee. One of the man's daughters, Houston resident Karen Brill, talked Tuesday about how Crawford hired a lawyer to track his mother down about 15 years ago.

His mother, Jane Lee, was living in Ohio by then and had never told her husband or step-children that she had given up a child years earlier.

"She was worried about what we would think,'' Brill said, "but I was thrilled to think we had more family."

The Lees later moved to Oldsmar. Jane Lee was not available for comment, but Brill said Crawford and his mother formed a warm relationship. "He said he had had a great upbringing,'' Brill said. "But I think he really enjoyed meeting us and getting to know this other family.''

Both David and Lori Crawford liked to ride horses, so in the 1990s they moved to the open spaces of Hernando County.

They lived for a while in a double-wide mobile home while Lori worked next-door as barn manager for At Home Acres, a horse boarding business near the Withlacoochee State Forest.

David Crawford also helped out, without asking for pay, said owner Paige Cool.

"Let's say a board breaks in the barn. Let's say a water pipe breaks — he was just always there for you," Cool said. "He was my handyman.''

David and Lori Crawford divorced in 2004. He continued living in the home with his daughter, said Cool the neighbor.

Lori Crawford could not be reached for comment. Her father, Jack Phillips, said she was in Brooksville, comforting her daughter.

In 2007, Crawford remarried and moved to a log-cabin style home in quiet area of Crystal River.

Neighbor Erica McKethan, 22, was awakened by officers at 1 a.m. Tuesday, a few hours after the shooting.

Did she know where Donna Crawford was? McKethan knew Crawford's wife worked at night, just like he did, but she didn't know where.

"I feel horrible for his wife,'' McKethan said. "It's a terrible loss.''

In a scene that is becoming too familiar, Crawford was already dead by the time his wife and daughter arrived at Bayfront Medical Center, Harmon said.

With 25 years on the force, Crawford's personnel file is stuffed with good evaluations and dozens of letters of praise from citizens and supervisors.

He once outsmarted suspects in a car by pulling in front of them so that his headlights blinded the driver. Then he took cover nearby and ordered them to stay in the car, buying time until backup arrived. Crawford's "blinding'' technique "should be used as a training example on how to control a scene,'' his supervisor wrote. "He made the suspects think there was more than one officer.''

The only major blemish on Crawford's record was a 15-day suspension in 1998 for having a relationship with a prostitute who was also selling drugs.

Crawford became eligible to retire last year. He told neighbor Jim Hickey, 78, he eventually wanted to work part-time for the Citrus County Sheriff's Office.

But his work wasn't quite done in St. Petersburg, said Eric Holmes. The two of them discussed retirement just a few days ago. Crawford talked about finances and options, but said he would stay a little while longer.

"Here is a guy who didn't have to be here anymore,'' Holmes said, "and is still working the midnight shift and doing the job.''

Photographer Will Vragovic, researcher Carolyn Edds and staff writers Dan DeWitt, David DeCamp, Logan Neill and Richard Martin contributed to this report.

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How to help

Anyone wishing to donate to the family of Officer David Crawford may send contributions to Suncoast Law Enforcement Charities, Inc., 14141 46th St. N, Suite 1205, Clearwater, FL 33762. For more information or to inquire about credit card donations, call (727) 532-1722.

Officer David Crawford was hardworking, with soft spot for domestic violence victims 02/22/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 7:18am]

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