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Two officers and a gunman killed in St. Petersburg shootout

ST. PETERSBURG — Two St. Petersburg police officers and a gunman were fatally shot and a U.S. marshal was injured early Monday in gunfire that broke out as police tried to serve a domestic battery warrant at a St. Petersburg home.

"Our community has suffered a loss today," St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon said during a somber press conference with Mayor Bill Foster outside Bayfront Medical Center.

Suncoast Benevolent Association President Mark Marland confirmed the fallen officers as Sgt. Tom Baitinger and Jeffrey Yaslowitz.

By Monday afternoon, police were able to enter the home where the shooting happened. They confirmed that the shooter, Hydra Lacy Jr., also was dead.

The St. Petersburg officers became the first killed during service since 1980. Harmon said the wives of both were notified and "in shock."

Yaslowitz, 39, joined the department in 1999. He was part of the department's K-9 unit. He is survived by his wife Lorraine and three young children -- two boys ages 5 and 12 and an 8-year-old daughter.

Baitinger, 48, had been with the department since 1996. He is survived by his wife Paige.

"I consider them friends . . . and I'm going to miss them," Harmon said at an afternoon press conference at police headquarters. "It's a very hard day for the police department. It's a very hard day for the community."

While he spoke, Harmon clutched items that belonged to the fallen officers, including a badge, a wedding ring and bracelet.

"I'm having a hard time letting go of them," he said.A group of five St. Petersburg police officers stood around a cruiser outside Yaslowitz's home in northwest Hillsborough County. Some were in uniform, some were not; all looked grief-stricken. Sgt. David Barr, who supervised Yaslowitz's unit and was in his police vehicle farther down the road, said the officers needed time before speaking about their colleague, but called him "the best."

An officer out front of Baitinger's house told those who stopped by that his wife wasn't accepting visitors.

The officers were shot Monday morning after approaching a home in the Perry Bayview neighborhood where Lacy, a known sex offender, according to records, was being served a U.S. Marshal's warrant through a fugitive task force.

A marshal who responded to the scene also was shot and is expected to survive. His name will not be released.

Officers arrived at 3734 28th Ave. S. to interview Lacy's wife at 7 a.m. When it became clear the suspect was in the attic and armed, more officers arrived. One of them was Yaslowitz, who was done with his shift and on his way home when he answered the call for assistance.

At. 7:29 a.m., officers on scene reported gunshots and officers down.

Yaslowitz and the marshal were hit first when they tried to arrest Lacy, who refused to surrender, police spokesman Mike Puetz said.

Yaslowitz fell wounded inside the attic, officials said, while the marshal tumbled to the first floor.

Other officers, including Baitinger, attempted a rescue. That's when Baitinger was fatally shot in the upper torso.

Baitinger and the marshal were eventually taken from inside the house and transported to the hospital. Yaslowitz remained trapped inside and was rescued later by a tactical unit.

"It doesn't look good," Harmon said shortly after Yaslowitz was taken away.

Harmon said the gunman was initially armed with some sort of pistol, probably a semi-automatic.

"He had killing those officers in his mind and that's what he did," Harmon said.

At least six Florida police officers have been killed by gunmen since June — two in Tampa, two in Miami last week and now two in St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg city officials were already discussing flying their flags at half-staff Monday morning to honor the fallen officers in Miami when they learned of the shootout in their own city. The flags were to be raised Tuesday but will stay lowered until after the officers' funerals, according to the city's top administrator, Tish Elston.

As Harmon told a group of reporters that the two officers shot dead were married, Foster turned his eyes to the ground. He grimaced and closed his eyes tight as tears streamed down his cheeks. He grabbed a tissue from his pocket, took off his glasses and wiped his face.

After the news conference, he told a reporter: "I'm not doing very well. Not very well at all."

About noon, Foster went into another building at the hospital, saying he would talk more at the 4 p.m. news conference at the police station.

"I'm going to find a place to pray," he said.

Rumors began circulating through the community shortly after the first officers were taken to the hospital.

Early Monday, Pinellas Sheriff's Chief Deputy Robert Gualtieri made a dramatic statement at a previously scheduled meeting of the County Commission, saying, "The one St. Pete officer is dead, and the other one is pinned down in the house and was shot several times."

But at 10:10 a.m., police officials said only that two were in critical condition and one was stable.

Puetz said Lacy was facing aggravated battery and two other felony charges and was being served a U.S. Marshal's warrant.. An officer was interviewing Lacy's girlfriend, who told the officer Lacy was in the attic. When Lacy was approached, he began firing at the officer, Puetz said.

By 11 a.m. Monday, authorities lost contact with Lacy.

"We don't know if he's wounded or just lying in wait," Puetz said.

About 1:30 p.m., authorities began demolishing some of the walls of Lacy's home, hoping to gain entry.

At 2:15, a tactical team that entered the home confirmed that a body found inside was Lacy.

Neighbors said they first heard shots coming from the home at 4 a.m. and later saw police lights at 7:15 a.m. Crowds of onlookers gathered in streets for several hours during the standoff.

Records show the house belongs to Christine Lacy, 45, and Hydra Lacy Jr. Records show he is 38 or 39.

State records list Hydra Lacy Jr. as a sex offender as of March 2004. He is listed as absconded as of June 30, 2010, meaning he was no longer residing at the address listed for him.

"We've been looking for him for a while," said Pete Cajigal, assistant chief to the U.S. Marshal's Office for the Middle District of Florida.

In 1992, he was sentenced in Pinellas County to 15 years for sexual battery with a weapon or force and five years for false imprisonment and aggravated child abuse, according to state criminal records. He was released from state prison on March 4, 2001.

He first served time in prison from 1989 to 1991 on a five-year sentence for charges of battery on a law enforcement officer.

Hydra Lacy Jr. is the brother of Jeff Lacy, former International Boxing Federation super middleweight champion. Hydra is the oldest of nine children.

Carol Jewell, Christine Lacy's sister, says the tragedy could have been avoided if officers had picked up Lacy in November, after he failed to show up in court on domestic violence charges.

Jewell said her sister told police that Lacy was at the 28th Avenue house, but they would not pick him up because they did not have a warrant.

Christine Lacy also told police that Lacy had been ordered to stay away from her, but they said they did not have the paperwork, Jewell said.

"After they left her, I took her to my house,'' Jewell said. "If they had arrested him in November when we called police, he never would have been a fugitive.''

Court records show that a judge in the domestic violence case had ordered Lacy to stay away from his wife, that Lacy failed to appear for a Nov. 1 trial, and that the court sent an electronic warrant to the Sheriff's Office the next day.

St. Petersburg police spokesman Bill Proffitt declined to comment.

By 3 p.m., the house on 28th Avenue S was a pile of rubble. Investigators planned to raze the home and search for more evidence.

"Our community can not understand the perils associated with putting that vest on every day and putting on that badge," Foster said at the afternoon press conference. "There is nothing that is routine in this position. … And yet these men and women put their lives on the line everyday."

Times researchers John Martin, Carolyn Edds and Natalie Watson, and staff writers Jamal Thalji, Steve Nohlgren, Leonora LaPeter, Michael Van Sickler and Curtis Krueger contributed to this report.

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Died in service

Other St. Petersburg police officers who have been killed in the line of duty:

Chief of police James J. Mitchell, Dec. 25, 1905, stabbed.

Constable Edward Adolphus George, Sept. 16, 1908, shot.

Detective Wayne M. Barry, May 23, 1929, shot.

Officer Eugene W. Minor, Oct. 25, 1929, shot.

Officer Frank A. Pike, May 19, 1933, automobile accident.

Officer James W. Thornton, Oct. 16, 1937, shot.

Officer William G. Newberry, Oct. 17, 1937, shot.

Officer James J. Goodson, Dec. 25, 1947, shot.

Officer Eugene A. (Gene) Bessette, Nov. 19, 1961, motorcycle accident.

Officer James A. Krupp, April 15, 1964, automobile accident.

Officer Charles Lee Eustes, Sept. 24, 1967, shot.

Detective Herbert Ray Sullivan, Aug. 18, 1980, shot.

Source: Times files.

On the Web:

Heroes of St. Pete Police (click on the officer's name to see more details):

http://heroesofthestpetepolice.org/hallofheroes.html

Officer Down Memorial Page (for a list of all fallen officers in Florida):

http://www.odmp.org/browse.php?abbr=FL

Blood needed

Florida Blood Services issued a statement saying the tragedy involving two officers caused Bayfront Medical Center to order 18 additional units of type O negative blood. This has drained what already were low reserves at Florida Blood Services' main distribution depot.

Other Tampa Bay area hospitals supplied by Florida Blood Services have blood on hand that could be transferred if needed. However, to maintain adequate inventories at all local hospitals, additional donations are requested by all eligible type O negative donors as soon as possible.

Prospective donors can go to fbsdonor.org, enter their zip code and find nearby "bloodmobile" and neighborhood donor center locations and hours. In addition, people can call 1-800-68 BLOOD (25663) to find donation locations.

Two officers and a gunman killed in St. Petersburg shootout 01/24/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 24, 2011 6:34pm]
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