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St. Petersburg police search for killer as they mourn another fallen officer

ST. PETERSBURG — Veteran St. Petersburg police Officer David S. Crawford was shot and killed Monday as he and another officer investigated a report of a prowler at a downtown residence.

Crawford's killing came one month after two St. Petersburg police officers were fatally shot in the line of duty — the first police officers killed in the city in 31 years.

An intensive manhunt was under way for the killer Tuesday morning, with several downtown blocks closed and police checking cars. The Tampa Police Department immediately sent 12 officers to help secure the search area, and later dedicated more officers, said spokeswoman Laura McElroy. Officers from other agencies, including the Florida Highway Patrol, helped as well.

The search was focused on an area bounded by Fourth Street S and 16th Street S, and Fourth Avenue S and 15th Avenue S (see map below). Police said they had reason to believe the shooter was still there Tuesday morning.

It was unclear whether Crawford's killer was injured in an exchange of gunfire.

The shooting occurred just after 10:30 p.m. near Eighth Street and Third Avenue S. Crawford, 46, a 25-year veteran of the department, was taken to Bayfront Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. His family was at the hospital early Tuesday.

Police said Crawford was shot multiple times, but also returned fire.

"It hurts," police Chief Chuck Harmon said at a news conference outside the hospital just after 2 a.m. "It stings. This killer has taken someone very precious to us, a member of our family." He called on the public for any information related to the shooting.

At 6:18 a.m. Tuesday, a white van left Bayfront Medical Center. Uniformed and plainclothes police officers lined up along a driveway on either side of the van and saluted as it passed, accompanied by two police cars with their emergency lights flashing. They headed down Sixth Street S.

About a dozen police officers were in front of the trauma center just before dawn.

Here's the police account of what happened Monday:

About 10:30 p.m., Crawford and Officer Donald J. Ziglar, 41, went to the 700 block of Third Avenue S to investigate a report of a suspicious person. Ziglar arrived at 10:34 p.m., Crawford a few seconds later.

A resident reported seeing a man holding a broken brick and walking into the back yard. The resident suspected the man was going to commit a burglary, police said.

Crawford drove around the area and found the prowler near the southwest corner of Second Avenue S and Eighth Street. He parked and approached the man.

At 10:37 p.m., Ziglar reported an exchange of gunfire. He told dispatchers that an officer had been shot.

Ziglar found Crawford on the pavement near his police cruiser. He had been shot multiple times at close range and was taken to Bayfront Medical Center.

The suspect ran south. Police dogs tracked the man for several blocks before losing his scent. Officers with bloodhounds assisted.

At least 50 police officers and the Pinellas sheriff's helicopter and canine units began an intense search for the shooter.

The suspect was described as a black man in his late teens or early 20s who was wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt.

"This is too much. Not again,'" said Don Enge, who lives within a couple of blocks of where the original call was dispatched. "I can't stand to see this. It's just not fair."

He said he heard helicopters and sirens Monday night and that officers knocked on his door about 1 a.m. Tuesday as they canvassed the neighborhood.

Anthony Ciecalone, 26, said he was sitting on his porch drinking a glass of wine when he heard six shots. He said it sounded like four shots came from one gun, two from another.

Ciecalone grabbed his camera and ran with a friend to within 35 feet of the downed officer. He said the officer was on his back and had a leg in the air.

He said police descended on the area and surrounded the officer. The other officers were yelling for an ambulance, which arrived quickly and took the wounded officer away.

Before running toward the scene, Ciecalone saw a man running away and then saw a dark sedan or Pontiac Grand Am peel out of the area, he said.

Chris Magner, 30, who lives in the area of the shooting, said he was watching TV with his girlfriend when he heard as many as 10 shots coming from across the street from his house.

"We heard some gunshots, obviously from two different guns because one was way louder than the other one," Magner said.

Magner said he came outside and saw a number of police cars race into the area. He didn't see the injured officer or the shooter.

Police did not say whether Crawford was wearing a bulletproof vest.

Michael Ponce de Leon was driving through downtown with his brother when he saw Crawford leaning against his police car and fall to the ground, Bay News 9 reported. He jumped out of the car as his brother called 911.

"Blood was everywhere and he was just basically mumbling,'' Ponce de Leon said. "I couldn't make it out. I was pretty scared.''

He said he stayed with the officer, yelling at him in an attempt to keep him conscious, until police arrived.

The city is still coping with the shooting deaths of Officers Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz and Thomas Baitinger, who were killed Jan. 24 in a confrontation with an armed suspect in an attic. Police laid siege to Hydra Lacy's home at 3734 28th Ave. S with armored vehicles and nearly destroyed it until his body found was found hours later.

Earlier Monday, about 280 people attended a golf fundraiser for the officers' families at Feather Sound Country Club.

"This city has been through hell," Mayor Bill Foster said at the news conference outside the hospital. "Our hearts are broken."

Before the double killing last month, it had been 31 years since the last St. Petersburg officer died in the line of duty. Detective Herbert R. Sullivan was shot in 1980 during an undercover drug buy by a suspect who then sneaked through a police perimeter.

The Tampa Bay area has now had six officers shot to death in the line of duty in two years. The Tampa Police Department has lost three: Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab and Cpl. Mike Roberts.

Harmon said he could see shock on the faces of his officers.

"As I saw their faces tonight it was … not again," Harmon said.

Crawford was sworn in as a police officer on July 13, 1985.

Police perimeter established for manhunt


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St. Petersburg police search for killer as they mourn another fallen officer 02/21/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 5:33pm]
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