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St. Petersburg police officer's New Year's Eve ranges from stray bullets to straying children

ST. PETERSBURG — Somewhere in St. Petersburg on Friday night, a New Year's Eve reveler fired a celebratory bullet into the air. It nearly made landfall at Demens Landing but instead pierced the back of a 17-year-old girl out with her parents.

She survived. So did a 30-year-old woman who was stabbed by a stranger after she left Push Ultra Lounge about 2:30 a.m. Saturday. The attack left her with a collapsed lung.

For them, the first minutes of 2011 were unexpectedly violent.

"It starts out gangbusters every year," said St. Petersburg police Officer Christopher "Drew" Vickers, who came to their aid.

Vickers, 32, works the 5 p.m.-to-3 a.m. shift. He spent the evening answering calls from people in crisis.

On this night, he was St. Petersburg's virtual chaperone, soberly assessing a city pumped with booze and abandon.

It was a night when anything could happen — and did.

Happy New Year? He didn't have time to notice.

• • •

The night began slowly, but picked up at 10 p.m. A few minor traffic accidents, a call about shots fired (it was firecrackers) and a moment to scarf down a barbecue sandwich.

Just after 11:30 p.m., Vickers' Ford Crown Victoria barreled east on Fourth Avenue N when he took a call about a lost boy at North Straub Park. Justin Myers, 3 feet 10, 102 pounds, was wearing a red jersey.

Vickers traipsed through the darkened park, jammed with people listening to Michael Lynche croon on the main stage. Several people stopped him to ask when the fireworks would go off. His pace quickened by the minute as he scanned the crowd for the boy.

Fireworks cracked in the sky when the radio dispatcher announced that Justin was found.

It was after midnight, a brand- new year. But things were just getting started.

"I'm a runaway," said a 13-year-old girl who planted herself between Vickers and his cruiser. She had slipped out to see the fireworks.

Her iPod blared heavy metal as he drove her home, a rooming house for troubled teens. Vickers explained the rat-tat-tat outside.

"That's fireworks. … That's automatic fire. … That's an AK."

Every year, he said, at least one person gets hit by stray rounds that arc across neighborhoods.

"By the time this night is over …" Vickers said, trailing off.

• • •

After 1 a.m., his job got busier. A home burglary alarm on Third Street N, a drunken driving stop on 38th Avenue N, a traffic stop for blocking an intersection on Fifth Avenue N. A drunken man upset about a recent breakup flagged him down. Vickers took him home.

By 2:30 a.m., a traffic stop was on nearly every other downtown corner. Vickers took a call about a stabbing victim.

When he arrived at Third Street and Third Avenue S, a woman wearing a tight black party dress sat on the curb in front of CVS. A St. Petersburg Fire Rescue paramedic leaned down to inspect small holes in her back. She moaned.

The 30-year-old woman and a friend had been walking away from Push Ultra Lounge when a man began following them. First he fondled her friend, then he groped her. When she slapped him, he lunged and stabbed her four times with a small pocketknife. He fled on foot.

Despite a police search that included a canine officer, the attacker remained at large Saturday, police said. The women said he was black, about 5 feet 5 and 200 pounds, and wore diamond stud earrings, a gray-and-white Hawaiian-style shirt and black jeans.

Vickers followed the ambulance to Bayfront Medical Center to complete his report. Doctors there said the stabbing victim had a collapsed lung. Her injuries were serious, and she remained there Saturday in stable condition.

The victim's friend sat in the waiting room. She's from Pennsylvania. Vickers told her it was lucky she had been around. It could have been worse had her friend been alone.

He added: "Don't let this reflect on St. Petersburg."

• • •

While he was in the emergency room, a 17-year-old woman walked in with a gunshot wound to her back.

She had been at Demens Landing watching fireworks with her family when the slug fell from the sky. The officers looked at X-rays mounted on a light box. The slug looked large, possibly from a rifle. By then, detecting where it came from was impossible.

A team of paramedics headed out the door minutes after 4 a.m., and Vickers followed. But he returned when a man on a gurney began yelling at paramedics.

An officer and nurses huddled around a bowl of orange punch and a tray of cupcakes, chips and vegetable dip. This didn't feel like a happy new year for Officer Vickers.

St. Petersburg police officer's New Year's Eve ranges from stray bullets to straying children 01/01/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 7, 2011 4:27pm]
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