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St. Petersburg honors officers who gave their lives, those who came to their aid

ST. PETERSBURG — The police department on Friday honored three officers who died in the line of duty in a span of 28 days this year, and the comrades, firefighters and doctors who came to their aid.

K-9 Officer Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz, Sgt. Thomas J. Baitinger and Officer David S. Crawford were posthumously awarded the Medal of Valor and the police Purple Heart. Police Chief Chuck Harmon presented the medals to their families at the Coliseum at a ceremony attended by more than 700 members of the Police Department, acquaintances and city leaders.

"You have always made me proud," the chief told his police force. "But our recent time together has made me even prouder."

Yaslowitz and Baitinger were killed Jan. 24 by an armed fugitive hiding in an attic. It was the first time St. Petersburg had lost an officer in the line of duty in 30 years. Their funeral was attended by more than 10,000 mourners.

Then, 28 days later, Crawford was shot and killed while trying to question a prowling suspect downtown, police said. A 16-year-old was charged as an adult with first-degree murder.

"He will be held accountable for this terrible and senseless crime," Major Mike Kovacsev told the crowd.

The widows of the three slain officers were presented with the purple hearts, a memorial badge and the department's highest honor, the medal of valor. The women sat in the front row with their families. Donna Crawford and Paige Baitinger cried as they received the rewards, hugging Harmon and Mayor Bill Foster.

Lorraine Yaslowitz did the same, and handed the medals to her three children, who studied them closely.

"It's an honor, it makes me really proud of Jeff," said Lorraine Yaslowitz, 40.

It was only in the last few days that she stopped getting cards and flowers everyday from strangers lending support. Politely smiling to well wishers, she said she feels strong knowing she's not alone.

"There are times when the gravity of Jan. 24 hits me," she said. "That's when I'm reminded by my faith, the people around me and Jeff: It's all part of a plan."

For their actions during that Jan. 24 siege, 14 officers received the department's highest honor: the medal of valor.

"It is given to those who distinguish themselves for conspicuous bravery," said police spokesman Bill Proffitt, "in this case, literally in the face of gunfire."

After the fugitive mortally wounded Yaslowitz and shot a deputy U.S. marshal, a small team of officers entered the house to rescue them: Baitinger, Sgt. Karl Lounge and Officer Douglas Weaver.

Weaver helped free the marshal, then went back for the mortally wounded Baitinger. Lounge exchanged gunfire with the fugitive as he hid in the attic. Lounge and Weaver were both awarded the medal of valor for their actions. Both officers got hugs from Foster.

Weaver, who entered the house multiple times under fire that day, received the longest standing ovation.

Officer Timothy McClintick, who was inside the house when the shooting started and pulled the injured marshal to safety, also received the medal of valor. As did Officer Max McDonald, who aided the rescue team.

Weaver then led the St. Petersburg SWAT team, the Tactical Apprehension and Control team, back into the house to free Yaslowitz. That team of officers also received the medal of valor: Bradley Bryan, Jason Deary, David Gerardo, Matthew Hansell and Donald Herring.

Deary and Gerardo pulled Yaslowitz from the attic and carried him out.

TAC team members Ruben DeJesus, Darrell Goodrow, Patrick McGovern, John Paulina and Ronald Try were also given the medal of valor for assisting that day.

The exceptional service award was given to members of the department who aided in the Jan. 24 siege: Emergency Radio Dispatcher Lawanna Medaries, who was commended for her calm dispatching help and coordinating the rescue efforts that day, and Sgt. James Haley, who helped draw up the TAC team's attack plans.

The police department's life saving award was given to four officers who gave medical aid to Baitinger, Crawford and Yaslowitz: Joshua Innes, Thad Crisco, Candace Marklin and James Stewart.

St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue firefighters, paramedics and SWAT paramedics who came to the aid of the fallen officers were also honored: James Cunningham, Kevin Dooley, Joseph Grasso, Matthew Grasso, Daniel Gulick, David Jones, David Kirby, Richard McKinney, Corey Wagner, Nicholette "Nicky" Walker, Michael Weaver and Leo Williams.

The crowd gave a standing ovation to four Bayfront Medical Center surgeons who worked on all three officers: Dr. Steven G. Epstein, Dr.Jeffrey L. Johnson, Amy J. Koler and Dr. Nicholas W. Price.

"It's truly our honor," said Dr. Epstein, "and thank you for honoring us."

St. Petersburg honors officers who gave their lives, those who came to their aid 05/20/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 20, 2011 4:20pm]
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