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St. Petersburg man first to discover wounded police officer

ST. PETERSBURG — Michael Ponce de Leon and his brother were driving to a cafe late Monday when they noticed a police officer slumped against his cruiser at Second Avenue S and Eighth Street.

The officer rolled awkwardly then dropped face-down to the ground.

"Bro, there's a cop that just went down!" Ponce de Leon told his brother. He slammed on the brakes and threw the car in reverse. His brother, Steve Buck, called 911.

Ponce de Leon ran to the scene yelling, "Officer!"

He saw bullet holes dotting the side of Officer David Crawford, blood spilling everywhere. He was still clutching his gun.

Ponce de Leon turned Crawford over and kicked his weapon away, afraid the officer would get confused and shoot. Crawford was wounded in the chest, and his neck was covered in blood.

"Officer! Stay with me, officer!" Ponce de Leon screamed.

Crawford began moaning and mumbling, but Ponce de Leon couldn't understand him.

"I was nervous," Ponce de Leon said. "He was hurt. I went to reach for his walkie-talkie to say, 'Officer down.' "

Suddenly, what seemed like a dozen wailing police cars with flashing lights surrounded Ponce de Leon. Then another dozen. Then another.

"No less than 40 cars," he said. "I thought, 'Oh my God.' "

He put his hands up and began backing away.

The scene quickly intensified. Some officers rushed to surround Crawford, ripping off his clothes to give him chest compressions.

Over and over, Ponce de Leon heard: "No, not again … not again … " as officers pulled up.

An ambulance soon arrived and took Crawford away.

Police took the two brothers to police headquarters and questioned them for two hours.

Ponce de Leon, who owns Fred Astaire Dance Studio on Fourth Street, went home about 2 a.m. and slept until nearly noon. He was still in shock when he woke up.

This was the second time he witnessed someone dying since moving to Florida from New York three years ago. He and his wife vacationed in Fort Myers last year and watched a man drown at the beach.

This was different, he said.

"There was just so much blood," he said from his dance studio Tuesday.

St. Petersburg man first to discover wounded police officer 02/22/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 11:04am]
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