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Widow remembers family's last morning with St. Petersburg police officer

St. Petersburg police Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz, with his wife, Lorraine, and children, from left, Calen, 5, Haylie, 8, and Caleb, 12. Lorraine Yaslowitz, a kindergarten teacher at Forest Lakes Elementary in Oldsmar, said in a radio interview Thursday that she and her husband were drawn together by their strong faith.

Special to the Times

St. Petersburg police Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz, with his wife, Lorraine, and children, from left, Calen, 5, Haylie, 8, and Caleb, 12. Lorraine Yaslowitz, a kindergarten teacher at Forest Lakes Elementary in Oldsmar, said in a radio interview Thursday that she and her husband were drawn together by their strong faith.

Monday morning started out like any other for the Yaslowitz family, only better.

Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz and his wife, Lorraine, had time to talk. They hugged and kissed as they always do. And as dad headed out, he did something special for his youngest, 5-year-old Calen.

Officer Yaslowitz fired up the emergency lights on his St. Petersburg police SUV so his wife and son could watch from inside.

"He said 'Hey buddy I'll switch the lights on for you,' " Lorraine Yaslowitz said in a radio interview, "and Calen was all excited about that because he loves that. … We were standing at the window and we were waving at him and blowing kisses. …

"He just sat there and kept the lights on and then finally he took off," she said, her voice breaking up, "and that's going to be my baby's final remembrance of him."

Officer Yaslowitz, 39, and Sgt. Thomas J. Baitinger, 48, were killed Monday in a deadly confrontation with an armed fugitive hiding in an attic. A deputy U.S. marshal was wounded, and the suspect also was found dead after a long siege.

Lorraine Yaslowitz, 40, gave an emotional interview about her family's ordeal Thursday morning on WFLZ-FM's MJ Morning Show radio program with host Todd "MJ" Schnitt.

Yaslowitz left behind a wife and three children: Caleb, 12; Haylie, 8; and Calen, 5. Lorraine Yaslowitz said she and her husband were drawn together by their strong faith.

"If you were to have one word for him, it's devout," she said in the interview. "He was devoted to what he was passionate about. He had a strong faith in Christ. Both of us have since we met 19 years ago."

Jeffrey Yaslowitz had a degree in psychology and used to work as a counselor. Later, he became interested in physical therapy and thought about pursuing a career in sports medicine because he was such an athlete himself.

But he really wanted to be a cop, even though his future wife once told him long ago: "I would never be married to a cop."

Finally, 11 years ago, he read in the newspaper that St. Petersburg was looking for police officers and decided to take a chance.

"I said 'First of all you would really be a terrible cop, Jeff, because you would be so laid back,' " she said in the interview. "Because I just had this stereotype that they have to be these go-getters and he's a quiet go-getter, not realizing that makes for an even better cop sometimes."

She thought he wouldn't even make the cut, but he did.

"He graduated 9-9-99," she said in the radio interview, "and that's when his real fun career began for him."

Lorraine Yaslowitz is a kindergarten teacher at Forest Lakes Elementary in Oldsmar. That's where she was Monday morning when St. Petersburg officers came to rush her to Bayfront Medical Center. She described those moments in the radio interview.

An assistant principal came to get her from her classroom. She didn't know what the rush was. But the look on her administrator's face told her something grim had happened.

At first, she thought something had happened to one of her students who wasn't there that day. Then when two St. Petersburg police officers ushered her into the counselor's office, she thought something had happened to one of her children.

Then it hit her: "Oh, this was about Jeff," she said in the radio interview. "I was strangely relieved … then it started to click."

They wouldn't tell her what happened there. Instead they raced her to Bayfront Medical Center, lights flashing, horn honking, the police car swerving around traffic as it raced to reunite husband and wife.

"As we got to the hospital, that's when it started to hit," she said in the radio interview. "It started to slow down a little bit. I didn't want to slow it down. I wanted them to rush me into the emergency room to talk to him."

It was too late, she said: "He was already gone. They did try to work on him. … His gunshot wouldn't allow for him to survive."

Their children are coping as best they can. Haylie wants her daddy back. Calen talks about how much he misses his daddy. The oldest, Caleb, knows his father is in a better place.

Lorraine Yaslowitz misses her husband terribly and tells him so.

"I talk to him all the time," she said in the radio interview. "I miss him and I love him more than anyone can love a human being."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

Widow remembers family's last morning with St. Petersburg police officer 01/27/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 28, 2011 2:22pm]
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