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Over St. Petersburg police radios, gunfire and urgency

ST. PETERSBURG — Two words from a police dispatcher gave the first sign that everything had started to go wrong at the orange house at 3734 28th Ave. S.

First she gave the address twice. Then, voice tight, she said, "Officer down."

Recordings of St. Petersburg Police Department radio calls offer a sense of what happened Monday when a fugitive hiding in an attic killed two officers and wounded a deputy U.S. marshal.

The recordings do reveal some new details, but the story they tell of a day filled with danger, frustration and tragedy is not the whole story, police say.

"These transcripts do indeed tell a very small slice of what happened, but they do not reveal a complete picture, and therefore it would be difficult for the public to understand the information without an explanation from us," police spokesman Bill Proffitt said via e-mail. "But that is something we simply cannot do at this time." The full story will come out when the investigation is complete, he said.

The recordings, obtained from the database of the RadioReference.com website, are not always clear. Some offer false information, such as when dispatchers warn about the fugitive wielding a rifle, or report that more than one officer lay wounded in the attic. Some conversations occurred on channels not available to the public. The transmissions do not identify who is speaking, so it is unknown if the voices of the fallen officers are among those heard.

Still, they are a raw record of one of the darkest days in the department's history.

The calls begin about 7:10 a.m., when a dispatcher asks for anyone in an area near 28th Avenue S and 37th Street S.

"I don't know what's going on, but they're needing units," she says. "They're asking for them to step it up."

Among the officers who responded to the call for backup were two veterans, patrol Sgt. Thomas Baitinger and canine Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz.

Baitinger had been trained as an expert on firearms and crisis situations. Yaslowitz and his dog were just starting a shift filling in for another officer, not coming off a shift as was initially reported by police. Both officers wore bulletproof vests.

Then a second dispatcher gave them some crucial information.

"Now we've got that the subject is possibly hiding in the attic," she says calmly. "Advise he possibly has a gun in the house."

She also warns there are dogs in the yard. Later, as police cars surround the house, a man's voice says, "Three large dogs in the yard, everybody be careful."

• • •

The man in the attic was Hydra Lacy Jr., 39. The convict and registered sex offender was on the run from police for failure to appear in court. He had vowed not to go back to prison.

Three members of a fugitive task force had gone to talk to Lacy's wife about where to find him.

Christine Lacy told them he was squeezed into the attic, police said. They called for backup.

A deputy U.S. marshal from the task force, Scott Ley, and Yaslowitz climbed up a stepladder to where Lacy lay in wait. Nothing on the tapes indicates how or by whom that decision was made.

They didn't get far. Shots rang out.

Soon after broadcasting that an officer was down, a dispatcher warns police to stay on the south side of the house.

"Shooting through the ceiling," a woman warns. "We've got two officers down, a marshal and then one of ours."

Now the voices become more urgent, calling for rescue trucks.

"He's still shooting," a dispatcher says.

• • •

Around 7:35 a.m., officers on the scene call for someone to fetch ballistic shields they could hold over their heads, enabling them to go inside and rescue Yaslowitz and Ley.

"He's shooting from the attic down," one says.

"Anybody in the house, talk to me," a dispatcher asks.

"Get us out of here," says one male voice, not identified. His voice is hoarse, weak.

At first she doesn't understand what he has said, but a male officer breaks in to tell her, "He said, 'Get us out of here.' "

"We're trying to get you out of here, give us a minute," the dispatcher tells the unidentified voice. She asks where he is in the house.

"Officers in the house, we need to know where you are," a dispatcher says again.

A man whispers, quite clearly: "Bathroom."

After more discussion about how to approach the house, a dispatcher cuts in to say, "I need a shield to get these officers out. They're injured. Let's go."

Baitinger is among the rescuers. The officers say they're ready. They've got a ballistic shield to ward off bullets from the attic.

Someone keys a microphone and whispers, "Bathroom. Bathroom. Two in the bathroom. One in the attic."

Minutes drag by with no radio chatter. Then a dispatcher says more shots have been fired through the ceiling.

Then a woman shouts, "We need to get Baitinger out."

"Where is he at?" asks a man.

"East side of the house."

A bullet, fired from above, had found its target.

• • •

Now with Baitinger, Yaslowitz and Ley stranded inside, talk focuses on how to drag them out. Lacy is "moving around throughout the attic," an officer says. Someone wonders if he has Yaslowitz's gun.

More people join the discussion, stress throbbing in their voices. They talk about how to bring paramedics closer to the house. One officer suggests using a nearby dump truck for cover.

"Shots fired again, from the attic," someone says.

Another officer mentions contacting the Fire Department to bring out its thermal imaging equipment to pinpoint Lacy's location.

Officers charge into the house to rescue the trio. There's a shout: "Just take him out the back!"

At last comes the report, "Okay! We got two out, possibly one still in the attic. Bad guy's still in the attic, still firing."

"Everybody's out but Yaslowitz, is that 10-4?" a dispatcher asks.

"That one's still in the attic," an officer eventually says.

Another officer says to switch Yaslowitz's radio to a different channel.

At that point, for the first time, a dispatcher mentions "a TAC callup" — the department's tactical squad, more commonly called the SWAT team.

Amid a discussion about clearing out the houses near the shootout, an officer tried getting a message through to the man still trapped in the house.

"Hey Yaz," one officer says. "Can you click your radio if you're okay, buddy?" There is no apparent response, at least on the open channel.

"Click your radio if you're okay, buddy," he says again. The response is the same.

• • •

Just before 8, the TAC bus shows up but can't immediately get through to set up command.

A woman says there are so many cruisers around the house now they can't tell who is where.

Several officers discuss the attic. There's only one external opening on the south side, a vent, they say. There is no other way to get out of the attic except the way Ley and Yaslowitz went in.

Then, about 8:07 a.m., a man says, "Be advised, suspect was on the phone with us" — but the rest is lost in static.

On the radio, the officers discuss hearing noises from the house. Then another voice says, "We got him on the phone. Stop cutting the drywall, if you're cutting drywall."

Minutes pass, then a man says, "Everyone stand down just for a second. We're talking to him."

• • •

Officers say they're taking up positions on nearby rooftops. Someone mentions a cruiser is blocking the command bus, so they need a spare key to move it.

"Shots fired again," says a dispatcher. There's a long pause.

"I'm hearing noises," someone says. "I think from inside the house."

After further conversation about positioning officers — some at the air vent, some in the front yard — a male voice says they're going "right through the house pretty soon" and could flush Lacy out.

"Be aware officers might pursue him," the officer warns. "Don't shoot the officers. Don't shoot this way, at us. We won't shoot at you, I promise."

Then he adds, "If he is armed, do what you need to do. If he is unarmed, hopefully we can take him down."

Someone else mentions needing helmets — "five or six."

"He hung up the phone again," a voice reports. "No change."

About 8:45 a.m. the radio carries the sound of several shots echoing.

"He's coming out!" someone shouts, but it's not true.

"Subject is shooting up out of the roof," a dispatcher reports.

A few minutes later, another voice says, "He claims he's got an officer in his sights, and he claims he's going to shoot him."

Moments later, a woman reports, "The suspect — they have him on the phone — he says if he sees another officer, he's going to shoot him."

Someone else keys a mike, and there's the sound of heavy breathing, static, then silence.

After a long pause, someone says, "Still no contact." And later: "We've called him several times. No answer."

Another pause. Then an officer reports, "We got him back on the line." A tense minute passes with no radio traffic.

"Okay," an officer says. "He hung up the phone again."

Lacy could be heard moving around in the attic, the officer says, and talking about how "he doesn't have any family members," the officer adds. "He hung up the phone again. … They think he's actually on the phone with somebody else. They're trying to figure out who."

That's the last time anyone mentions talking to Lacy on the phone.

• • •

Now the discussion shifts back from negotiation to attacking Lacy and rescuing Yaslowitz.

"We feel he is setting a trap for us if we go in there," one officer reports.

Soon armored vehicles known as "Peacekeepers" rumble in to punch holes in the house, and officers prepare to toss tear gas into the attic.

"On our signal, they're going to take out the front door and the wall," an officer says.

"Soon as they make another opening, we need to make another try to get Yaz," another says.

An officer shouts to armored vehicle drivers, "Anything you can do to get that roof off, that's where he's at, so we can put gas in there. Put holes in that. … Just push the whole roof off."

"Unable to get the roof," a man responds.

"Take out the whole front wall if you can," another officer says.

After more maneuvering and demolition, someone asks: "Did that improve our access to Yaz?" The answer is no, so they discuss another approach.

"My feeling is that this guy's just waiting for us to come in that way and ambush us," an officer says.

"We have to make another try to get him," another voice says, apparently referring to Yaslowitz.

They try to figure out Lacy's next move.

"We can hear him moving around right above us," an officer says. "He's definitely getting ready to cover that entrance." He asks for a Peacekeeper to move around to counter it.

A few minutes later, a man shouts, "We're getting him out! Just stand by!"

About 9:25 a.m., amid a barrage of gunfire and tear gas, rescuers at last pull Yaslowitz out of the house and get him to a waiting ambulance.

"They're loading him up now," a woman says. "We're moving in three minutes or less so everybody start shutting down now."

"Shut down the roads until the ambulance goes by!" a man shouts.

At Bayfront Medical Center, Yaslowitz and Baitinger would be declared dead. Ley, though wounded, would start the slow process of recovery. As police tore down the remaining walls of the house where Lacy was hiding, they finally uncovered him. He too was dead.

Late that night city crews finished demolishing the entire house, loaded the rubble into trucks and carried it away.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds and staff writer Danny Valentine contributed to this report. Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@sptimes.com.

Over St. Petersburg police radios, gunfire and urgency 01/29/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 3, 2011 1:56pm]
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