ST. PETERSBURG — Hours before 23-year-old Arnieceia Milton was fatally shot, her boyfriend got into an argument with another man, police said.
The couple left and Milton wound up at a gathering in a plaza parking lot on 16th Street South — a hotspot for unsanctioned parties that have drawn the attention of police and city officials.
At about 1:30 a.m. Sunday, the man who had argued with Milton’s boyfriend drove by and fired shots into the crowd, the St. Petersburg Police Department said. On Monday, they identified the shooter as 25-year-old Tyree Lamons Bell. He is still at large.
Police said Sunday they considered Milton, the mother of two young children, an innocent bystander.
Bell has been arrested a number of times in Pinellas County, court records show, but never for violent crimes. Charges included marijuana possession, fleeing police and burglary. He was also cited in several traffic infractions. A recent citation listed his address as Jungle Avenue, south of Jungle Terrace in west St. Petersburg.
Police did not say where the argument happened. The shooting took place in front of the Dread Pros & More salon, in a plaza that also includes nonprofits, a barbershop and an architectural firm. It’s only two blocks away from the Food Max grocery store parking lot where two people have been shot dead since September, one of them just a day before Milton was killed.
Bruce Street, who owns the barbershop Gentelmens Quarters, said his side of 16th Street, between 15th Avenue South and 18th Avenue South, has become a magnet for huge late-night gatherings Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. In the mornings, he has to throw out liquor bottles, clean up trash and sometimes urine from in front of his shop.
The parties have annoyed him for three months, he said, but he didn’t raise a fuss because nobody was getting hurt — and because his polite entreaties for revelers to go elsewhere didn’t budge them. After the shooting, though, he wants them gone.
“I truly think it’s something that the police could do in a non-aggressive way," he said.
Police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez said police are aware of the parties and have put extra patrols in the area on weekends. The parties, which can attract as many as 400 people, often last until 4 a.m., Fernandez said.
“It seems to be kind of an informal gathering spot,” she said. “Sometimes there are a lot of people there, but they’re on private property, so we are limited as far as how much we can do.”
Some business owners have talked to police about the problem, she said, and code enforcement officials have visited the area. But other businesses have capitalized on the parties, opening their stores late and even hiring caterers to feed the crowds, Fernandez said.
Frank Zibbie, who owns Fay Deli and Subs across the street, said he’s noticed groups of people drinking and fighting on his side of 16th Street for the five years that he’s been there. He’s raised concerns to police, community members and his landlord, he said.
“I complain and I complain," Zibbie said, "but it seems like it’s falling on deaf ears.”
But Michael Jalazo, executive director of the Pinellas Ex-offender Re-entry Coalition nonprofit, which has an office that shares a parking lot where the shooting happened, said he’s been encouraged by the city’s recent efforts. As recently as Friday, he said, he met with St. Petersburg police Chief Anthony Holloway, community leaders and city officials.
“When it escalates into violence, it’s really a concern for all of us in the neighborhood," he said.
St. Petersburg City Council Member Gina Driscoll represents the city’s Sixth District, which includes the stretch of 16th Street where the shooting took place. She said she’s been working with police and code enforcement for four or five months around the area.
Neighbors have complained mostly about the noise and about cars blocking their driveways, Driscoll said, though this weekend’s shootings added a darker layer of concerns. Just a few weeks ago, she said, she worked with businesses in the area to organize family-friendly outdoor events during the daytime, hoping to show that they could foster a communal environment that was also safe and sanctioned.
“It went very well," she said, "but clearly we still have a lot of work to do.”
Police asked that anyone with information that could lead to Bell’s arrest contact Crime Stoppers of Pinellas at 1-800-873-TIPS or www.crimestoppersofpinellas.org. They may be eligible for a reward of up to $3,000.