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COUPLE LAUDED FOR AIDING OFFICER

During a standoff, they pulled a severely wounded officer to safety.

For someone who got shot, Tampa police Officer John Armao turned out to be pretty lucky.

Armao had been serving a warrant May 11 on a convicted felon wanted for illegally carrying a concealed weapon. Armao found him hiding in a closet.

"Let me see your hands!" Armao recalled shouting.

Just then, the felon, Kevin D. Hunter, shot Armao in the face with a .44 magnum. Armao rushed out of the house and took shelter behind a truck in a nearby driveway.

Luckily for Armao, the driveway belonged to Dan and Gwen Pitts, who received an award from the Tampa Police Department on Thursday morning for their bravery and courage in helping Armao.

"We have a plaque here for you, but it doesn't do nearly enough to express our appreciation for what you did," said police Chief Stephen Hogue as he presented the Pittses with a Citizens Award. "You ran right into harm's way to give aid to Officer Armao."

Dan was packing his truck to go fishing when Armao stumbled in. Hunter was still firing, the .44 rounds exploding like thunder. Armao was covered in blood.

But Dan and Gwen dove right in to help.

Dan helped Armao get shelter behind a Jeep, to put some more distance between him and the shooter. Gwen told her children to hide in the bedroom, called 911, and grabbed beach towels to put pressure on the bloody wound. Armao refused to go into their home in case Hunter followed him and injured the children, Jerica Kozlowski, 14, and Daniel, 12.

"My shoulder hurt, and my face was on fire," is how Armao described the pain. "It was happening so fast, and yet in slow motion, if that makes any sense."

A bright red scar runs from the right side of Armao's mouth to his jaw line, and the bullet he took to the shoulder means he still cannot move his right arm above his chest or put it behind his back. He is in physical therapy three times a week and hopes eventually to return to duty at the Police Department.

But, as he sees it, "another inch either way, instead of across my face, it (the bullet) would have been in mouth."

The standoff ended that day when Hunter shot himself in the head.

As for the Pittses, they're just glad Armao, whom they hadn't seen since the shooting, is recovering well.

"He looks great," Dan said.

He said they'll be taking the plaque home to put above their fireplace, above the trophies he has won for drag racing.

Sarah Mishkin can be reached at smishkin@sptimes.com or (813) 225-3110.

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