Scene of shooting rampage, Palmetto club closes

Orange circles Tuesday mark where police collected evidence after Saturday’s shooting outside Club Elite in Palmetto. 

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Orange circles Tuesday mark where police collected evidence after Saturday’s shooting outside Club Elite in Palmetto. 

PALMETTO — Near the nightclub with bullet holes in the door, M.J. Young stood in her driveway and tried to wash the lovebugs off her windshield.

Every time a car passed, she stopped — and jumped.

"Yes, I'm worried," said Young, 49. "All I can do is just say my prayers and pray God takes care of us."

Unknown gunmen fired rifles on a crowd milling outside the Club Elite early Saturday morning, killing two people and injuring 22. The injuries included wounds from both gunshots and flying debris, police said.

The rampage was over in seconds. But the aftershocks in this riverfront city of 14,000 continue days later.

"Two dead and 22 injured? That's ridiculous," said Julia Peterson, who works at a nearby day care center. "The person could not have had any kind of heart."

"We don't think it was a random act, but there was bound to be collateral," said Palmetto police Lt. Scott Tyler. "What really horrifies us is that regardless of the target, they (shooters) had to know other people would be hurt."

Investigators do not believe the shootings were gang-related, Tyler said. They are leaning on the public for help, offering a reward of $20,000 for information leading to an arrest.

The Gold Star Club of Manatee, a citizen group that supports law enforcement, and Palmetto Community Redevelopment Agency have contributed, said Tyler.

Club Elite has been the subject of dozens of complaints since 2009. In December, a man was shot and killed on a side street near the club.

"You can hear a bunch of screaming, a lot of booming noise any day of the week," said Young. "At night, there is no rest."

The owner of Club Elite is Walter Presha Sr., a retired Army colonel, the president of Manatee County Rural Health Services and a past president of the Police Athletic League.

His daughter, Trina, stopped hiring off-duty Palmetto police officers to provide security at the club around May 2010, said Tyler. She told police that business was down, and she didn't need the security anymore.

On Tuesday, some residents said they knew the club and the neighborhood were rough. But they put the shootings into this broader context: The world keeps getting meaner.

"They beat the hell out of a guy in Bradenton because all he had was $10. Goofy," said Rich Lesick, a 68-year-old retiree who lives a few blocks from Club Elite.

"This is stupid. Go back to the old days. You go out there with the knuckles and see what happens. Now, it's bang, bang."

Over at the laundry, Susan Hanchett, also 68, was writing out recipes while she waited on her wash. Everyone had been talking about the shootings.

"It definitely is a tragedy, but I don't see it as being out of the ordinary. Look at the Wild West. Violence is just part of being human," she said.

"There it is, in front of you, and you're lucky to live through all those obstacles. There just seem to be so many tragedies that happen at the hands of a human being."

The club was locked up Tuesday, with an abandoned Four Loko can rolling on the porch and a flier for a Sunday football party with $9 buckets of beer on the door.

The doors will remain shut, said Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant. She said Club Elite would not reopen as a bar.

Young, who owns the home next door, said she got some sense of relief from that news.

"I need some peace," she said.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374.

Scene of shooting rampage, Palmetto club closes 09/13/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 12:22am]

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