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Shootings on Clearwater Beach spark chaos and confusion on Memorial Day

Law enforcement officials investigate the shootings, which started about 6:48 p.m. near the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa. Video from the scene is at tampabay.com/video.
Published May 27, 2014

CLEARWATER — A series of shootings broke out on Clearwater Beach on Monday evening, sparking chaos and confusion as people ran for cover.

At least two people were shot and eight people were in custody late Monday night as Clearwater police continued to search the area near the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa, 301 S Gulfview Blvd.

"People ran like ants," said David Bundy, who was eating at a table outside Post Corner Pizza, 431 S Gulfview Blvd. "We went inside because no one knew where the shooter was or how many there were."

The shootings started about 6:48 p.m. when a fight between two groups erupted in gunfire, said Joelle Castelli, a Clearwater spokeswoman.

One group was in the temporary parking lot north of the Hyatt's parking garage; the other group was at the corner of Coronado Drive and Second Street. A fight broke out, she said. At some point, someone left and returned with a gun. After that, someone went into the Hyatt garage and opened fire on the group below, she said.

A third shooting scene developed a little while later near Frenchy's South Beach Cafe at 351 S Gulfview Blvd., she said.

One person was shot in the groin and taken to a local hospital. Another person was shot in the hand and fled, she said.

A SWAT team was seen going into the Hyatt about 9:45 p.m. The hotel was in lock down as police searched room-to-room and combed the parking garage.

Police also closed off access to the beach, completely shutting the Memorial Causeway at first, and later limiting access to residents only. Traffic was snarled as there are few roads in and out of the area. The beach was reopened about 10:15 p.m.

Geography made it difficult for people to leave the area, Castelli said, but it also aided police as they were able to close roads and hamper the shooters' ability to flee.

Police had not arrested the eight people in custody, but Castelli said it was possible they would face weapons charges as police found multiple guns. The people in custody were being interviewed at the main police station Monday night.

Cody Holdsworth, a 23-year-old server at a Crabby Bill's restaurant, said she saw fights breaking out on the beach involving large groups of teens.

"I saw people pushed down to the concrete. It wasn't a good scene," she said. "My customers were scared."

She didn't hear the gunshots, but said customers said they did.

Bundy, the pizza customer, said he'd never seen anything like it and felt it took too long for police to arrive — he estimated five minutes.

"There should have been more security" given the crowd, he said. He described a crowd of teenagers and young adults, yelling at each other and blaring their radios as they cruised Gulfview.

He said he could partly see a male who was shot. "People were walking up to him and people would look at him for five seconds and walk away," he said.

Castelli discounted the notion that the beach was improperly monitored.

"We have a lot of police presence on the beach, especially on the holiday weekend," she said.

While police did not know what prompted the shootings, she said it appeared to be limited to the two groups that knew each other.

"Safety is our No. 1 priority," she said. "I'd bring my family here tomorrow."

Contact Laura C. Morel at lmorel@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4157. On Twitter: @lauracmorel. Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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