TAMPA — Before he goes to work, Deputy U.S. Marshal Scott Ley puts on a bracelet engraved with two names: Jeffrey Yaslowitz and Thomas Baitinger, the two St. Petersburg police officers killed by a fugitive hiding in an attic with a gun.
The bracelet reminds Ley he could have died with them that day nearly a year ago.
"I start my day with it," he said.
Ley spoke with reporters Tuesday for the first time since the Jan. 24 ambush in which fugitive Hydra Lacy Jr. shot and killed Yaslowitz and Baitinger and wounded Ley.
Lacy was wanted in a domestic violence case. He was later killed in the nearly two-hour gunfight at the St. Petersburg home, which the city later razed.
Ley, who returned to duty in May, attended a U.S. Marshals' ceremony on Tuesday recognizing six law enforcement officers who played important roles that day, including pulling Ley to safety.
He calls Jan. 24 the worst day of his career. He thinks of it every day, including the time he spent in the attic with Yaslowitz, knowing the officer had been badly hurt. "It's part of who I am now," he said.
He said he never hesitated to return to street duty.
"I knew I had been blessed, and I was doing what I was supposed to be doing," he said.
Among those honored by the U.S. Marshals Service were St. Petersburg police Detective Chris Herron and Pinellas Sheriff Deputy Misty Manning, who, along with Ley, were part of the team attempting to arrest Lacy on the warrant.
Both 22-year veterans, Herron and Manning received commendations of valor. They tried to rescue Yaslowitz and Ley but came under fire from Lacy.
They held off firing back, realizing they could hit Yaslowitz, but held their positions in the home and coordinated efforts to keep Lacy from escaping.
Herron and Manning said they struggled in the weeks after the shootings.
Manning remembers walking into a hotel, hearing footsteps on the second floor and suddenly having flashbacks to the house where Lacy hid in the attic.
Herron said the day kept playing back in five-minute increments, "little mini movies," that kept him from sleeping.
"You question everything," he said. "For me, personally, I just kept looking at what I could've done differently. … It was about a month before I could affirm for myself that we did what we were supposed to do that day. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong."
U.S. Marshal Bill Berger said his office found that "everything they did was textbook." Still, he said, there were lessons gleaned from the incident.
In fact, marshals in his district now take a special course that hits on lessons learned from that day. He said those lessons include ones learned from Ley on how to react when shot — breathing exercises, where to apply pressure.
Another change that resulted from the shootings is the design of shields that marshals use, Berger said. Previous bullet-proof shields were rectangular. That meant officers had to peek around to see the action.
Baitinger, a sergeant, was using such a shield when he was shot by Lacy during the attempt to rescue Yaslowitz and Ley, Berger said.
Now marshals are equipped with shields that are shaped like a human silhouette and made of bullet-proof glass through which they can see.
Berger said his office waited nearly a year to make the awards out of respect for the families of the officers who died. But he said it was time.
"It's unfortunately a tragedy that brought us all together," he said.
Reach Jodie Tillman at email@example.com or (813) 226-3374.