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St. Petersburg gets to know Officer David Crawford, then says goodbye

ST. PETERSBURG — The honor guard held the American flag taut over the officer's coffin — again. The police chief bent forward on one knee and handed the folded flag to the widow — again. The bugler played taps and the bagpiper played Amazing Grace and police helicopters flew overheard — again.

Just 32 days after the city honored two police officers killed in the line of duty, St. Petersburg had to do it all over again on Tuesday.

But the first funeral, for Sgt. Thomas J. Baitinger and Officer Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz, wasn't just about the fallen. It was also a very public outpouring of shock and grief by a city that hadn't lost an officer in 30 years suddenly losing two in one very grim day.

The funeral for Officer David S. Crawford, who died four weeks after the first two, was a much more intimate and personal affair.

This time, it was about a guy named Dave.

It was about the quintessential beat cop. It was about the midnight shift and having your squad's back. It was about the rough-hewn veteran who demanded professionalism. It was about the gruff exterior hiding a big heart. It was about the family man who loved his wife and doted on his daughter. It was about the big guy who enjoyed baseball and horses and, yes, even his cats.

Dave Crawford wasn't an easy guy to get to know. He had to let you in first. As the city said goodbye to another officer on Tuesday, his colleagues, friends and loved ones let in a whole city.

"A lot of people really didn't know Dave," said best friend Officer Thad "Stu" Crisco. "They saw this grumpy barnacle-covered exterior of a person and figured that's the way Dave was.

"That's not how Dave really was."

• • •

Crawford, 46, died on the midnight shift, shot and killed Feb. 21 while investigating a suspicious person report. A 16-year-old was arrested 24 hours later in his death.

For most of his 25 years on the job, Crawford worked midnights. Other officers always asked: Why?

"Dave said midnights fit his disposition," Crisco told the 3,500 mourners who assembled at First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg.

Few knew Crawford better than Crisco. They were partners for more than a decade. "Hi, honey I'm home," they used to tell each other at the start of each shift.

Their squad was District 2 Midnight Bravo Squad — the "Black Sheep" they called it. The squad of "misfits" and "throwaways," as Crawford used to put it, patrolling the city until sunrise.

Crawford liked the shift. All he had to do was be a police officer. He didn't have to deal with authority or bureaucracy.

"It's when he could be himself," said Sgt. Karl Lounge, Crawford's squad leader.

If Crawford thought a colleague was out of line or had acted wrongly, he wouldn't hesitate to say so. He was a burly man who could be intimidating and sarcastic — and the best mentor a rookie could ever have.

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class David Dehoyos said Crawford made him a better officer back when he was a cop in St. Petersburg.

"Dave was country. I was just a city boy. We made an unlikely pairing," Dehoyos said. "But there wasn't a moment I was on the street that I doubted he had my back."

Crawford also had a tender spot in his heart for victims of domestic violence. "I don't know why he had such a deep passion," Lounge said. "But he did."

There were times, though, when Crawford would answer a domestic call and decide what the couple really needed was a counselor — himself.

"He told them they need to grow up and take control of their lives," Lounge said. "Then he'd give me a heads up that a citizen complaint was coming."

But few did, the sergeant said.

"They knew he was right."

• • •

The front pews were filled with those Crawford left behind:

His wife, Donna, stepdaughter Patricia Savoie, 21, and two stepgrandchildren, Tatiana, 3, and Anastasia, 1½.

His first wife, Lori Phillips, and their daughter, Amanda Crawford, 24.

Dave and Donna Crawford lived in a log cabin-style home in Crystal River. He enjoyed living in the wide open country and being with his horses. He enjoyed it so much he didn't mind the two-hour commute.

He liked country music and barbecuing and fixing things.

He loved to brag about his daughter.

He played golf and softball — when his knees let him — and was a fan of auto racing and baseball.

Crawford loved working security at Tampa Bay Rays games because, as Crisco put it, "he got paid to watch baseball."

Crawford's station was always along the first-base line. He would trade with other officers to get it. He knew all the season-ticket holders. And if he wasn't there, the first thing the fans and the pitchers in the bullpen would want to know is: "Where's Dave?"

Crawford was a tough cop. But that didn't mean he was always a tough guy.

"A lot of people think Dave was so rough and tough that he'd have big dogs," Crisco said. "But Dave was a cat man. He had seven of them."

The audience grinned and laughed. There was a lot of that on Tuesday.

"That's not how Dave really was," Crisco said. "He was really a soft guy."

• • •

After the 21-gun salute, after the presenting of the flag, after hundreds of officers saluted the coffin one last time, two of Crawford's squad-mates escorted his daughter to a box in front of her father's police cruiser. Amanda Crawford, her father's badge hanging around her neck, released a flight of doves in his honor.

"143-Bravo. Radio to 143-Bravo," called out dispatcher Teresa Aniballi.

No response.

"143-Bravo, Officer David Crawford, is 10-7," the dispatcher announced. The code means the officer is out of service. His call-sign will never be heard from again. The ceremony brought many in the crowd to tears.

Then hundreds of police cars lined up for the procession, as the hearse and family slowly drove south toward downtown. Onlookers lined up as they slowly rolled along Dr. Martin Luther King Street N.

Men took off their hats. Young people snapped photos with their cell phones. As the hearse passed 68-year-old Fred Smith, he stood at attention and saluted, then placed his hand over his heart.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Smith, a Vietnam-era veteran and snowbird from a small town in Vermont. "To have this kind of stuff happen in (four) weeks, it's just unbelievable."

• • •

Mayor Bill Foster visited the "Black Sheep" squadron on Thursday. He talked to them about the importance of having support. He told them that after Crawford was killed, he got home about 4:30 a.m. and called a friend. He urged the officers to lean on their 4:30 a.m. friend, too.

Crisco shared that story Tuesday. He wanted to follow the mayor's advice, he said, but his 4:30 a.m. friend was Crawford.

"The black sheep has lost one of its flock," Crisco said, "and he cannot be replaced."

Times staff writer Emily Nipps contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at (727) 893-8472.

St. Petersburg gets to know Officer David Crawford, then says goodbye 03/01/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 12:38am]
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