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St. Petersburg reeling from shock of second fatal police shooting in a month

ST. PETERSBURG — The disbelief and shock was immediate.

The scene was too familiar, the feelings still too raw.

Another St. Petersburg police officer was dead, the third in less than a month to be killed in the line of duty.

The first officers to rush to Officer David Crawford's side cried out what the rest of the city would soon feel:

"Not again ... not again."

Moments later, stunned police chief stood outside Bayfront Medical Center, again. Mayor Bill Foster and City Council members gathered somberly, again. Police officers sobbed on cell phones and hugged each other, again.

"Cities don't prepare for this," Foster said. "Departments don't prepare for this."

A teary Foster, who held a news conference at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, offered a one-word description: "Hell."

Only hours before the shooting, nearly 300 people attended a golf fundraiser for the families of police officers Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz and Thomas Baitinger, who were killed Jan. 24 in a confrontation with an armed man in an attic.

"People were starting to move on, so this is like rebreaking a leg that was just beginning to heal," said City Council member Karl Nurse, one of the first officials to arrive at Bayfront after Monday's shooting.

For families of law enforcement officers, it seemed their worst fears had come true again.

"It's terrible. I just can't believe it," said June Fleisher of St. Petersburg, whose daughter, Karen Demick, is a 28-year veteran of the Police Department. "I worry about my daughter every day. … It's a constant concern, and now after all these years of not having anything happen to any of our guys and gals … it's just heartbreaking."

The ripples spread well outside the city.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio: "Once again we are confronted with a terrible tragedy — the death of a respected and beloved police officer. That this loss comes so soon after the deaths of two St. Petersburg police officers last month only compounds our grief."

Attorney General Pam Bondi: "It is with great sadness that we are grieving yet another officer, whose life was taken while protecting the citizens of this state."

State Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, called losing three police officers in a month "unconscionable and unacceptable.''

"Our community is better than this," Kriseman said.

City Council Chairman Jim Kennedy, whose law office is four blocks from where Crawford was killed, said he was in a state of disbelief. "I'm numb," Kennedy said. "I'm trying to digest another senseless killing.''

City Council member Leslie Curran, who was at the hospital as news spread of Crawford's death, worried how the police and community will cope with this latest crisis.

"It's just so tragic,'' Curran said. "I just don't know. There's just going to be a lot of sorting out. It's a terrible day for the police and for the city. Hopefully, we'll get the guy, and quickly."

The tense hospital scene Monday night and early Tuesday morning seemed like a horrible replay.

Police cars surrounded Bayfront and officers in uniforms and plainclothes streamed in and out of the trauma center. Thirty minutes after Crawford entered the hospital a hysterical police officer sobbed into his cell phone. A woman emerged and crouched against a wall, holding her face in her hands.

Around midnight a white van with flashing lights arrived and two men unloaded coolers, presumably intended for organ donations, and wheeled them toward the emergency room.

At 6:18 a.m. Tuesday, a medical examiner's van left Bayfront Medical Center. Police officers lined up on each side of the van and saluted as it passed, accompanied by two police cars with their emergency lights flashing.

A few hours later, after evidence had been gathered, St. Petersburg firefighters hosed down the street where Crawford died.

Staff writer Rita Farlow contributed to this report. Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

St. Petersburg reeling from shock of second fatal police shooting in a month 02/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 3:09pm]
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