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Training gun kills paramedic

A week before he would be certified a reserve Sarasota police officer, Michael Yahraus and a classmate practiced what they would do if they pulled over an armed criminal.

It was a routine good guy-bad guy scenario. Yahraus and a classmate were the cops, and Sarasota County Technical Institute instructor Al Doane, an off-duty Sarasota County sheriff's corporal, was the felon.

When the two good guys pulled over Doane, he responded by pointing his .38-caliber revolver at Yahraus. He pulled the trigger.

The gun, modified to fire blanks, blasted out a chunk of lead that had been put in the barrel to prevent anything from exiting the gun.

The lead ricocheted off a car windshield, entered Yahraus' left eye and lodged in his head at 6 p.m. Monday.

The Sarasota man died 15 hours later at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, the victim of a freak accident that left authorities stunned.

In the 33 years that modified guns have been used for training at the institute, there has never been a shooting, or a death. It was a training exercise that has been repeated hundreds of times.

"It was a typical role play, one of the most routine training scenarios," sheriff's Capt. Terry Lewis said.

Investigators say they believe pressure in the gun's barrel forced out the plug when the blank fired.

Doane had no way of knowing the gun would malfunction, sheriff's officials believe. "There's nothing he could have done," Lewis said. "This is one of those acts of God."

Doane, who was a county firefighter who worked with Yahraus' father before becoming a deputy, is on paid administrative leave.

Doane will not face an internal investigation because the sheriff's office is viewing it as accidental, Lewis said.

Yahraus, 32, a Sarasota County firefighter-paramedic, was training to join the Sarasota Police Department's SWAT team as a weapon-carrying medic. He was among eight people training for a variety of law enforcement roles Monday night.

The gun Doane fired is commonly referred to by staff at the institute's Criminal Justice Academy as a "prop gun." It has been confiscated by the sheriff's office.

The gun Doane fired was donated by the Sarasota Police Department 15 years ago.

Other guns at the school have been taken out of use since the shooting, pending the investigation.

"They are old, deactivated revolvers. We've treated them so they can't fire a real bullet," said Randy Gonzalez, who is director of the school's Criminal Justice Academy.

"We use blanks in them, so they (students) get the idea and feel of the noise being made and the stress," Gonzalez said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which creates curriculum and certifies instructors at 39 state law enforcement academies, also is investigating.

The FDLE's Timothy Day said this is the first time he has heard of a training weapon killing a student at any Florida academy.

More than 2,500 Sarasota County law enforcement and corrections officers have graduated from the academy since the institute began overseeing it in 1967, school director William Storms said.

Relatives said Michael Yahraus has a daughter, Nadia, who is of elementary school age, and two sons. Michael is 2, and Jonathon was born May 2 at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

Yahraus and his second wife, Denise, were married the day after Valentine's Day 1997 on Siesta Key.