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Investigations under way after St. Petersburg officer struck and killed man in wheelchair

ST. PETERSBURG — A 45-year-old man in a wheelchair, loved by his family and neighbors, is dead. A young St. Petersburg police officer is said to be distraught.

And investigators will have a lot of details to sort through over the coming weeks to determine if either man was at fault.

Officer Mehmedin Karic, 26, was driving east on 38th Avenue N early Sunday morning when he struck Harold Charles Fleming Jr. as he tried to cross in his wheelchair near 64th Street.

Fleming, who lived nearby, was thrown from his chair and pronounced dead at the hospital.

Karic, a relatively new officer, was not responding to a call when it happened, police said. He said he didn't see Fleming, who was wearing dark clothing.

Now, the Police Department's traffic unit and internal affairs investigators will determine whether Karic committed a crime or simply had bad timing as the 4:30 a.m. tragedy occurred.

"I don't think there is evidence yet to suggest it was a preventable accident," police spokesman Mike Puetz said.

An internal affairs board, including the police chief, may make a determination of Karic's level of fault in the case at a later time.

Police noted that a street light near the intersection was not working at the time, though it has since been fixed. Data have been collected to determine the officer's speed and a toxicology report will be done on Fleming.

It was unclear where Fleming, a quadriplegic and Dixie Hollins High School graduate, was going at that hour. His sister, Rhonda Collier, told the Tampa Bay Times on Sunday that she and her mother were in shock, though they could not be reached again Tuesday.

Karic will be subject to a "critical incident stress debriefing," or in-house counseling. He will be evaluated, but he has not been placed on leave. He has continued working his regular shifts, Puetz said.

Police personnel records show that Karic, born in Bosnia-Herzegovina, has been an officer since October 2010 and has no disciplinary actions in his record. In fact, in his performance reviews, his supervisors described him as "positive" and "respectful," an employee who is never late and always shows up for court appearances.

Aside from struggling with some grammar issues because English is his second language, Karic has had a good start to his career, the reviews suggest. His supervisors noted he followed safety procedures closely and has had no pursuits or crashes since joining the force.

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8452.

This story has been changed to reflect the following correction:

The St. Petersburg Police Department is not currently conducting an internal affairs investigation in the case of Officer Mehmedin Karic. A story Wednesday was incorrect on this point. Also, a criticial incident debriefing will be conducted with Karic as part of routine procedure. The story was unclear on this point.

Investigations under way after St. Petersburg officer struck and killed man in wheelchair 02/21/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 2:14pm]
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