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Motel standoff ends without incident

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

The man who halted traffic on Cleveland Street for six hours Friday was not a bank robber.

Nor did he take hostages at gunpoint or spray bullets with an assault rifle at Clearwater police.

Although these and other rumors swept through crowds that gathered to gawk as police blocked traffic and surrounded the Economy Inn on Cleveland, a distraught St. Petersburg man holed up in his motel room and threatening suicide triggered the commotion.

At the urging of negotiators, James Patrick Edwards finally ended his standoff at 3:05 p.m. No shots were fired, no one was injured and only the police had guns.

Slender and disheveled, Edwards seemed dazed as he surrendered and walked out of Room 35 with his hands behind his head as ordered. A dozen SWAT Team officers hiding nearby converged on him.

Oblivious to all the ruckus he generated, Edwards was handcuffed without a struggle. He kept his head bowed and did not speak as he was buckled into the back seat of a patrol car.

Police spokesman Wayne Shelor said Edwards, 41, whose last known address was 714 Jackson St. N in St. Petersburg, fought with officers and had to be subdued after he was taken to Morton Plant Hospital. He was taken into custody for treatment under the Baker Act. The law allows someone deemed a threat to himself or others to be involuntarily held and treated.

"He was upset and had been morose," Shelor said. "He had some personal problems lately. He'd also been drinking all day and was intoxicated."

He said Edwards was drinking what is known on the street as "Blister," or 86-proof mouthwash.

Within minutes of Edwards' surrender, traffic once again crowded the four lanes of Cleveland Street, the major downtown road leading to Clearwater Beach.

Shelor said police became involved after Edwards called someone at a drug rehabilitation center Friday about 8:30 a.m. and threatened suicide.

Officer James W. Thomas and paramedics went to Edwards' room at the Economy Inn in the 1200 block of Cleveland, Shelor said, but Edwards refused to come out and became angry.

"He was ranting and raving," Shelor said. "He implied he was armed."

Because the windows in Edwards' room provided views of Cleveland to the south and east, police decided to divert traffic as a precaution. One person was evacuated from the motel.

"We do this kind of thing all the time, but usually it happens in residential areas and not along a downtown thoroughfare," Shelor said. "His field of vision made it necessary for us to close down Cleveland."

At 9 a.m., barricades blocked Cleveland Street traffic at Lincoln Avenue and Lady Mary Drive. Traffic was detoured to Drew and Court streets, two other major east-west roads.

"Fortunately, we had parallel roads that could easily handle the traffic," Shelor said. "We really had no traffic problems to speak of."

Draped in camouflage, SWAT Team officers resembling swamp creatures crept through bushes. Others with shields and body armor sidled along walls as they circled the motel room.

"I hear they got some bank robber in there with a gun," said Jose Sanchez, 22, who left his Lincoln Avenue duplex to see what was happening. "Maybe they're gonna have a shootout."

People gathered along corners and ate lunch while watching police, who repeatedly ordered crowds to stay back. Mothers with babies in diapers and shoppers from nearby Cleveland Plaza milled around in the shade of a bus stop.

The only action was officers who huddled with a bullhorn as they talked to Edwards. After his telephone and cable TV service were cut off, police tossed a special telephone through the bathroom window of Edwards' room to communicate with him. Shelor said Edwards could only talk with police on the telephone.

About 12:50 p.m, Edwards told police he would come out. Then he said he wasn't. Then he stopped talking to negotiators for several minutes. He kept dropping the telephone.

Shelor said police decided to "wait him out" rather than use tear gas or some other method to flush him from the room. The strategy worked when Edwards surrendered.

According to Shelor, officers and detectives already working were assigned to the operation, so little overtime costs were involved.

The motel manager, who would only identify himself as Jay, said Edwards checked in Thursday night for two days and did not seem upset. Edwards arrived at the motel in a taxi.

"He looked like a nice guy," he said. "He just looked real tired."