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Bullet mars boys' play in home

Until recently, Aurelia Bautista hasn't had money to spare for toys like the plastic trucks she had just bought her 4-year-old twins.

For more than a year, the twins stayed with their grandmother in Mexico while Bautista and her husband worked and saved money to make a home for them here.

As the boys rolled their trucks along the carpet of their first-floor apartment at about 12:45 p.m. Tuesday, Michael Ulatowski was just above them in his second-floor apartment with his new toy: an SKS assault rifle.

It happened that as Ulatowski, 19, was putting his rifle back together after a cleaning, its barrel was pointing in the general direction of the twins playing downstairs.

"I knew there was a bullet in it," Ulatowski said later, "but I didn't think it would go off."

It did.

The bullet ripped through the concrete floor, down through Bautista's ceiling and into the love seat just a couple of feet from where the boys were playing, said New Port Richey police Officer Ralph Angelini.

It tore through the love seat, sliced through the carpet, ricocheted off the concrete underneath and bounced around some more before coming to rest, Angelini said.

Bautista, who was sitting on a sofa next to the love seat, heard the noise and saw a cloud of dust rising from the love seat's cushion.

"I didn't know what had happened," she said later in Spanish. But she guessed it had been a gun. She gathered her children and headed for the rear of the apartment, located in a complex at Main and Congress streets.

Meanwhile, Ulatowski ran to the apartment below him to see if anyone had been hurt. Everybody seemed to be all right, he said, but Bautista was dialing 911.

"At that point I got worried," Ulatowski said. "I took off and went to my mom's."

He fled with the assault rifle in his trunk, police said, but returned shortly afterward and submitted to questioning. Police seized the rifle and are referring charges of culpable negligence against him to the state attorney, Angelini said.

Ulatowski still was in his apartment after police left and answered questions from a Times reporter.

He said that until recently he worked as a mechanic but was currently unemployed. He had bought the gun Monday for $175 from Silver Dollar Pawn Inc. at 5607 State Road 54, he said. All the purchase required was the money and a background check showing he had no felony convictions on his record, he said.

State records show he was arrested in 1996 on a charge of felony aggravated assault with a weapon and again in 1998 on a charge of felony vehicle theft. According to state records, neither charge ended in a conviction.

"I don't know what happened," Ulatowski said of the rifle's discharge. "I put it back together, and as soon as the bolt went down it went off."

Asked what he had planned to do with the rifle, Ulatowski said he had heard hunting season was beginning soon. He has not hunted before, he said, but thought he would give it a try.

Asked why he bought such a big gun, he said he liked the "big powerful bullets."

"I like the kick it has and the big lightning bolt sound," he said.

Asked if he had anything else to say, Ulatowski offered this:

"I'm sorry I scared the Mexicans downstairs. Really. I didn't mean to shoot through the floor. It's not like it was intentional."

Ulatowski said he expects to get his assault rifle back from the police within a few weeks or a month.

Bautista, who was reunited with her twins only a month ago, said she is thankful they weren't hurt. She thinks she and her husband can make a better life for them here, she said, than they had in their small hometown in the Mexican state of Hidalgo.

"As long as something like this doesn't happen again."