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Tears, gratitude for slain St. Petersburg police officers

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster greets mourners at the entrance of First Baptist Church in St. Petersburg on Friday.

LARA CERRI | Times

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster greets mourners at the entrance of First Baptist Church in St. Petersburg on Friday.

When the funerals were over, St. Petersburg police Officer Cedric Doss, 43, stood in the afternoon sun shading his eyes, blinking back tears. He has been on the force 18 years, and though he had been to plenty of other police funerals, he had never been to one for someone he knew.

"It hurts. I mean …" his voice trailed off. He wiped his eyes. "I was inside for the service, but the worst part was when I came out here. That last call, hearing that for them both, that's the saddest song you ever want to hear. I've heard it before, but you never get used to it. Those guys were friends of mine, which makes it that much harder. It's just all so … I can't even express how sad this is."

• • •

St. Petersburg police Officer Ron Wolfson said the outpouring of support has been heartening.

"It means a lot to us," he said. "That public support is a positive sign officers don't always see."

He called Officer Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz and Sgt. Thomas J. Baitinger "really, really good people."

They were "hard working and dedicated, they always gave 100 percent."

He said the last call was difficult to hear.

"That dispatch thing really hit me hard," he said. "It got us all choked up."

• • •

Pat Yatsui, 59, sat with her mother-in-law, Miyo Yatsui, 95, in the bleachers outside the church. Both clutched American flags as they watched giant screens showing the service inside.

Pat, an insurance agent, watched the shooting unfold on the news. "We walked here this morning because this is all just so terrible. . . . I can't stand that something like this happened in our city. I came to support our police and show them I appreciate everything they do."

"It's so sad . . . but look around," she said, scanning the large crowd. "I'm so proud to be part of this community."

• • •

As the funeral procession was en route to Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park Cemetery in Clearwater, a few women gathered in the northeast corner to quietly honor the fallen officers. They said they watched the service on TV and felt the need to pay their own respects.

"I cried through the whole thing,'' said Shirley Rayner, 43, of Clearwater. "It's just so sad. There's not anybody in Pinellas County this isn't affecting."

She was there with her cousin Yaslyn Washington, 54. "What is this world really coming to?'' Washington wondered aloud. "There's so much violence when we all need to come together as one.''

• • •

If you needed a police officer in St. Petersburg on Friday, a sheriff's deputy most likely responded. The deputies stepped in to take St. Petersburg's calls for service so the city's officers could attend the funerals, said Sgt. Tom Nestor, Pinellas County Sheriff's Office spokesman.

• • •

An annual appreciation dinner for law enforcement and emergency personnel Friday night became a heartfelt tribute to the slain officers. Pictures of Officer Yaslowitz and Sgt. Baitinger flanked the stage. St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, whose city lost two officers to violence last year, embraced.

"I know from experience that grief will last and take many forms," Iorio told the crowd.

"The events that occurred on Monday were unexpected to all of us, but really not necessarily unexpected to law enforcement," Foster said. "Because every day, they put on that badge, that vest, that Taser, that equipment that goes with their job, they know that they may be challenged by evil."

The crowd of 500, many of them politicians and judges, stood and cheered the mayors at the Hilton hotel in St. Petersburg's Carillon area.

The annual dinner was started by Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni in 1995, after the fatal shooting of Belleair police Officer Jeffery Tackett in 1993. This year's event was a fundraiser for the county's Police Athletic League, but Morroni said part of the proceeds will go to the families of the slain officers.

• • •

On a telephone near First Baptist Church, someone tacked up two blue posterboard signs, written in a child's handwriting:

"Thank you for helping us and we will never forget you"

"Thank you for making St. Pete a beter (sic) place."

Lane DeGregory, Curtis Krueger, Danny Valentine, Rita Farlow and David DeCamp contributed to this report.

Tears, gratitude for slain St. Petersburg police officers 01/28/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 28, 2011 11:33pm]
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