Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Public safety

St. Pete officer who risked life to rescue fallen comrades awarded Officer of Year

ST. PETERSBURG — Doug Weaver says he was just doing his job when he burst into a house under a hail of gunfire in January 2011 while trying to rescue two police officers shot by a fugitive.

People who were there that day say differently.

They say his courage and sacrifice — he went in at least four times — is already legendary.

On Thursday, Mayor Bill Foster and police Chief Chuck Harmon presented Weaver with the 2011 Officer of the Year award. The Exchange Club of St. Petersburg and the Charles A. Patterson and Odette W. Patterson Charitable Trust co-sponsor it.

"Training only takes you so far," Foster said after Weaver was given a plaque during a ceremony at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club. "And (then) instinct and selfless courage takes over, and that's what Doug exhibited that day."

Weaver, 47, who has been on the force since 1989, doesn't like the spotlight, but it has been thrust on him since the deaths of Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz and Sgt. Tom Baitinger on Jan. 24, 2011.

That morning, Weaver helped pull a wounded deputy U.S. marshal to safety, then went back into the house for his friend, Baitinger, who had been shot. He led the SWAT team when they went back to rescue Yaslowitz, who had already died.

"The events on the 24th were extremely tragic and it's hard for me to accept a lot of the accolades for what I did," Weaver said. "It's difficult, because it brings back some very tough memories. I lost two good friends. The community lost two great officers."

Weaver walked away with several injuries that day, including a torn rotator cuff, bulging discs in his neck and tinnitus. He returned to work 10 days later.

Months later, the department joined with the Pinellas Sheriff's Office to form a violent crimes task force. Lt. Paul McWade and Sgt. Steve Mandakis were tasked with finding officers from St. Petersburg.

"His name was one of the first ones that came to mind," McWade said. "He's just one of the guys that won't let you down, somebody I can count on to get the job done."

On the task force's first day in August, a suspect threw a door at Weaver. He tore the MCL in his knee and injured his hamstring.

"I couldn't believe that. Who throws a door at you?" Weaver said. "The bad guys have just lost, in my opinion, their minds. ... These guys are actually engaging us in battle."

The injury took Weaver out for two months. Shortly after he returned, he re-injured his neck and leg. He stayed on until January, when he asked for a transfer to the community service unit.

His days are less hectic now. But he's still a member of the SWAT team and is an alternate on the violent crime task force.

"After all my injuries and everything ... I needed a break," he said.

Talking about the deaths hasn't gotten any easier, Weaver said. But when he does, he likes that he gets to mention his two friends. He doesn't want the community to forget them. Or other officers who served that day.

"I call police work a team sport," Weaver said. "It was not just me alone. I just don't want people to forget that."

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