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Memorial Day shootings at Clearwater Beach still a mystery (w/video)

It was business as usual in Clearwater Beach on Tuesday afternoon, a day after shootings locked down the island.
Published May 28, 2014

CLEARWATER — After more than 40 officers responded to three shootings on Clearwater Beach where two people were hurt and four others arrested, authorities were still grappling with the question at the center of Monday's mayhem: What sparked the violence?

Police have not ruled out that the shootings were gang related, though detectives on Tuesday were exploring whether they were the result of a personal dispute.

"Although some persons may have some gang affiliation," said Clearwater spokeswoman Joelle Castelli, "we have not established any type of rival gang conflict."

Clearwater detectives were working with the Tampa and Tarpon Springs police departments and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office to establish the motive.

"It's going to take us all week to figure out where we are on this," said Clearwater police Chief Tony Holloway, adding that the shootings are "an isolated incident."

According to police, the chaos began about 7 p.m. Monday when two groups of people began to argue on Second Street, north of the Hyatt Regency on Gulfview Boulevard. During the dispute, Jerry Lee Holmes Jr., 31, fired at least three shots from a .40-caliber semiautomatic at a crowd of 15 people, according to an arrest affidavit. The shots struck the Hyatt.

The second group ran up the ramp of the Hyatt parking garage, where another person fired shots down at Holmes and the others. The crowds dispersed, including Kayvuis Pringle, 20, whom officers arrested when he failed to comply with their commands to stop running, police said.

Parking attendant Andrew Evans said he saw some people throwing water bottles at others. Then he heard the shots.

"I ran and ducked behind a car to avoid getting shot myself," he said.

At 7:36 p.m., another shooting erupted near Frenchy's South Beach Cafe at 351 S Gulfview Blvd., where Devonte Saunders was shot in the groin area. He was still hospitalized Tuesday with non-life threatening injuries, police said.

Then, at 8:30 p.m., sheriff's deputies were investigating an aggravated assault on the Clearwater Memorial Causeway and arrested Jeffrey James Grier, 20, and Jared Woodard, 19. Grier, a felon, is accused of having a .38-caliber revolver. Woodard is accused of waving a gun at a nearby car, an arrest affidavit shows.

Woodard and Grier denied any involvement with the shootings, police said. Detectives also think the dispute near the Hyatt is not related to the shooting near Frenchy's.

Tuesday, detectives were still searching for the person who fired from the Hyatt parking garage, as well as another person who was shot in the hand and ran away.

Holmes was charged with firing into the building, and Pringle with resisting arrest. Woodard and Grier face several charges, including improper exhibition of a firearm and being a felon in possession of a weapon, respectively.

Besides the arrests, authorities detained six others Monday night who were eventually released. Witnesses said they also saw officers rounding up and briefly questioning beachgoers moments after the shootings.

Anne DeDominick, a Hyatt guest visiting from upstate New York, had just stepped out of a hot tub at the hotel when she spotted about 15 SWAT officers with assault rifles.

"I was shaking in my shoes," she said. "I didn't know what was happening."

The arrested men, all of Tampa, were booked into the Pinellas County Jail. All were released on bail except Grier, accused of violating his probation on unrelated Hillsborough charges.

Among the confusion Monday was Pringle's name: Police originally released his name as Terrance Kirnes. On Tuesday, they released his real name.

In Tampa on Tuesday, Holmes' stepfather, Earl Nelson, 54, said he was surprised to hear that his stepson was involved. A few hours before the shootings, Nelson saw Holmes, who was playing with his five children at Nelson's home. Everyone sat and ate grilled burgers and hot dogs. Then Holmes left.

"We have no clue, once the boys leave here, what they do," Nelson said. "All I can do now is put it in God's hands."

About three to nine officers patrol Clearwater Beach on any given day, and sometimes more during holidays like Labor Day and Memorial Day. Holloway said the department will likely place more officers on the beach.

"My staff is working on a plan right now," he said. "We're going to try to make sure that Clearwater Beach continues to be a safe place."

But Hoyt Hamilton, a City Council member whose family owns the Palm Pavilion in Clearwater Beach, said there must be a balance between public safety and overkill.

"If everywhere you turn you see a police officer," he said, "that gives a negative connotation."

Other Clearwater tourism and city officials seemingly read from the same script Tuesday, saying the shootings wouldn't have a long-term effect on tourism.

"We're the best beach town now and in a 100 years, we'll still be the best beach town," said Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, though he acknowledged "alcohol is a problem on the beach."

Darlene Kole, president of the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce, added on Tuesday: "This morning, everyone was out walking, enjoying the beach."

Times staff writers Katie Mettler, Mike Brassfield and Claire Wiseman and Times staff researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Laura C. Morel can be reached at lmorel@tampabay.com or (727)445-4157.

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