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St. Pete cop recalls harrowing day of two officers were killed

ST. PETERSBURG

On the morning a fugitive in an attic orchestrated an ambush that killed two police officers, Doug Weaver risked his life over and over trying to save his comrades.

He was part of the team that crept into Hydra Lacy's house to rescue St. Petersburg Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz, who minutes earlier had been felled by a bullet in the attic.

Later, Weaver helped pull a wounded deputy U.S. marshal to safety, then went back into the house for his friend, Sgt. Thomas Baitinger, who had been shot during the rescue attempt.

Weaver felt bullets whistle by his head that morning, which make his ears ring still. And by the time the day was through, he had lost two of his friends.

You would think an experience like that might make a cop question everything. His career, his community, his beliefs.

Not Weaver.

He is a textbook patrol officer who sports a buzz cut, a thin mustache and an unflappable manner. He doesn't even get emotional when talking about that day.

He didn't need months away from the department to cope. He was back on the job in about 10 days.

And a few weeks later, he was right there with the SWAT team when they were called out to scour the city for a gunman who shot and killed another officer, David Crawford.

"It's my job," Weaver said Thursday in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times and Bay News 9, his first public comments about the incident. "That's what I'm supposed to do."

• • •

Weaver was one of the first to arrive on scene as backup that Monday morning, Jan. 24. The 6-foot-4, 284-pound Lacy, who was wanted in a domestic violence case, was holed up in the attic and had opened fire on officers.

Weaver, 46, heard a burst of gunfire just as he reached a perimeter position near the back of the house.

Weaver joined Baitinger, who was once his supervisor, and Sgt. Karl Lounge, who he'd worked with for years.

They entered the home together.

Baitinger led the way with a shield. Weaver and Lounge crouched behind him, both carrying rifles.

As Baitinger passed under the attic opening, Lacy opened fire. Baitinger was hit. Weaver yelled for his buddy to escape out a window.

But Baitinger wouldn't leave.

"No. I see Yaz," he said. "I see his boot."

Baitinger moved to provide cover fire for Weaver, who grabbed a stepladder and tugged on Yaslowitz' leg. When the officer didn't move, Weaver yelled for help.

Lacy fired again.

A bullet grazed Weaver's left hand and whizzed by his head. He lost his balance and fell to the floor, dazed.

"I look and I see Tom's down," said Weaver, who believes Baitinger lowered his shield to come to his aid. "That's what killed Tom. He was trying to come and help do more."

• • •

Weaver moved to the bathroom, where the wounded marshal and another officer were huddled.

He busted out the back window and heaved the marshal, who had been shot in the groin, through it.

Then he ran around the side of the house to the bedroom where Baitinger lay. He busted through the window.

As Lacy pumped more bullets in his direction, Weaver knocked over an entertainment center to block the door.

"I'm just trying to get my buddy out," Weaver yelled up to the attic.

Lacy never said a word but kept firing.

Weaver spent the next few minutes wresting Baitinger to the window, handing his friend off to other officers.

Yaslowitz remained in the attic.

Weaver joined a command center outside, where he learned that Lacy had called 911 and claimed he had only wounded Yaslowitz with a gunshot to the shoulder.

Weaver knew better.

"It was hard to fathom, it still is, but I knew he wasn't with us," Weaver said. "He was dead."

Just a couple weeks earlier, the two had a dad-to-dad talk while handling a call. Weaver wanted to know if potty-training his toddler daughter would ever get any easier. Yaslowitz, a father of three, assured him everything would work out. Give it time, Yaslowitz said with a good-natured laugh.

Pushing those thoughts out of his mind, Weaver went to his cruiser and changed into his SWAT gear.

He knew he had to go back in.

"I knew tactically, I had the best knowledge," he said. "I knew that the murderer was trying to ambush us."

Over the next few hours, Weaver entered the house several times, often taking fire. For the first time in his career, he shot his gun at a suspect — his bullets joining a barrage of more than 200 fired into the attic, 10 of which found their intended target.

Hours later, Weaver was part of the team that discovered Lacy's body.

• • •

Weaver doesn't remember a time when he didn't want to be a police officer. He says it's his calling.

He was born and raised in Seminole. His dad was a law enforcement officer, his mom a nurse. He graduated from Dixie Hollins High School and St. Petersburg Junior College.

At 25, he joined the St. Petersburg Police Department. That was 22 years ago.

During that time, he has investigated burglary cases, worked patrol, become a sniper and joined the SWAT team.

Though he was in the thick of the most harrowing action that awful morning, he eschews the hero label. He wants people to know that there were many others who did just as much as him — others who were just as brave.

Like Officer Jason Deary, who ultimately pulled Yaslowitz out of the attic two hours later, and Officer David Gerado, who carried him out.

And like his friend Baitinger, who stayed in the gunfight — even after taking a bullet.

"There was a lot of bravery that day," he said. "I consider us all brothers."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8643.

St. Pete cop recalls harrowing day of two officers were killed 04/21/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 21, 2011 11:50pm]
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