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Witness checked for a pulse and thought, 'They have kids, they have families'

TAMPA — Rose Dodson woke up to the sound of two gunshots and squealing tires.

Dodson, 32, ran outside.

She and her neighbors in a 50th Street apartment complex appear to have been the first to find the two Tampa police officers lying next to each other just moments after they were fatally wounded by a suspect early Tuesday morning.

"When I came out the cops were already laid out in the grass," she said. "Their weapons weren't drawn at all. They didn't even get the chance."

A woman who identified herself as Sweet Cohen, 39, said she was washing dishes when her grown daughters opened the apartment door.

Then they heard the gunshots.

"One of them pulled the other one back in the door," she said.

They closed then door, waited, then looked outside. Neighbors were already starting to gather. A passer-by told her she needed to call 911.

The unidentified man had been walking on the sidewalk and just passed the suspect's car and the two police cruisers, Cohen said, when he heard the gunshots behind him.

The female suspect in the 1994 red Toyota Camry had already sped off, the passerby told the residents, while the male suspect ran past him and through their complex, scaling a 6-foot fence to make his getaway.

"I went and grabbed my cell phone and called 911," Cohen said. "By the time I got to the end of the road they were asking so many damn questions. I told them to just get out here."

Dodson was with her. The lights were still flashing on both police cars.

She couldn't tell if the officers were breathing, so she reached down and placed two fingers on each officer's neck.

Each man was breathing and had a pulse, she said. But one, she said, was "breathing very shallow."

The officers lay side-by-side, she said, one fallen officer's right arm outstretched. The other officer had fallen on top of the other's arm.

As Cohen talked to the 911 operator, the residents started to shout "hurry up, hurry up."

"It's just shocking to see," Dodson said. "They've got kids, they've got families. That's the first thing I thought about. That's why we were screaming over the phone to the operator to hurry up, hurry up. We knew it didn't look good."

When the other officers arrived, Dodson said, one of the officers appeared to have stopped breathing. The officers ripped open the shirt and vest of the other injured officer and started CPR until the paramedics arrived and took him to the hospital.

The passerby residents said was near the shooting scene was questioned by police, they said, and is not a suspect.

Dodson recounted her story Tuesday morning while Hillsborough sheriff's cadets lined up shoulder-to-shoulder and searched the apartment complex for evidence, tracing the path the gunman used to escape.

Deputies armed with submachine guns stood watch. It was the third time that morning they had searched the complex. The fallen officers' cruisers were already removed from the crime scene.

Dodson and her 8-year-old daughter are from New York. They're new to Tampa. They intend to stay —- just not here.

"We've only been here a month," she said. "We're getting ready to move again."

Witness checked for a pulse and thought, 'They have kids, they have families' 06/29/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 1:29pm]

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