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Community garden could honor officers killed in St. Petersburg shooting

Officers work at the shooting scene as the house in the 3700 block of 28th Avenue S is being razed. Two St. Petersburg police officers were killed.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Officers work at the shooting scene as the house in the 3700 block of 28th Avenue S is being razed. Two St. Petersburg police officers were killed.

Friday's funeral for two officers gunned down in the line of duty marked a somber point in a very sad saga in the history of St. Petersburg.

On Monday, police exchanged gunfire with fugitive Hydra Lacy Jr., who shot and killed Officers Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz and Thomas J. Baitinger and wounded a deputy U.S. marshal before dying himself.

In the days that followed, a steady flow of cars circled the blocks off 37th Street near 28th Avenue S. Curiosity seekers by the carloads drove from points across the region to see the site where a dark cloud of misery and uncertainty now hovers.

Meanwhile, at Police Department headquarters at 1300 First Ave. N, residents of all ages and hues, with flowers and balloons in hand, came to pay their respects to the two fallen officers.

Those scenes are reminders that St. Petersburg, despite having a population of 250,000, is essentially a Southern town with Midwestern sensibilities.

For days, a hush seemed to fall across the city as it struggled with the immensity of its loss.

But amid the silence, some grumbling and pointed questions began to emerge in e-mails and online forums as people struggled to make sense of a tragedy that will reverberate here for years.

Some police experts have been critical of the procedures used Monday. It is understandable that some members and friends of the Police Department resent that.

Moving forward, tough questions must be asked, however. The city must do its due diligence, conducting a thorough review of the tragedy to prevent future losses.

Many of the questions grow out of concern for the safety of our officers, in the hope that the department can learn from possible mistakes.

One baffling issue in this sad saga is Mayor Bill Foster's decision to demolish the house.

Why?

The destruction of the dwelling was both dramatic and drastic.

Foster said Tuesday that he ordered the demolition out of concern for the safety of the neighborhood and a desire to avoid civil unrest.

Does that decision now hinder law enforcement officers in conducting their investigation?

Only time will tell, but my guess is there will be few answers found in the heap of rubble that was carted more than a mile away from the crime scene.

Foster also announced that Christine Lacy, who disclosed to the fugitive task force at her door that her armed husband was hiding in the attic, will be compensated for the loss of her home.

"The city will make sure she is made whole," said Foster, who added that she lost everything she owned and he was treating her as a victim.

If this turns out to be the case, the taxpayers will be picking up the tab for more than the dwelling. All of the contents of the home as well as a car were destroyed.

The city owns a host of properties. Here's a thought: Why not offer Lacy a house of comparable value in a different neighborhood and transform the now-vacant lot into a community garden in memory of the officers?

The Council of Neighborhood Associations could help reach out to residents in the Perry Bayview neighborhood so that the lot could become a symbol of peace and hope, not one of loss and despair.

Sandra J. Gadsden is an assistant metro editor/community news. She can be reached at sgadsden@sptimes.com or at (727) 893-8874.

Community garden could honor officers killed in St. Petersburg shooting 01/29/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 12:42pm]

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