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'War On Cops' Continues: Third St. Pete Officer Killed

'War On Cops' Continues: Third St. Pete Officer Killed

Tampa Bay Tribune via YellowBrix

February 22, 2011

Harris said he was taken to headquarters and questioned. A cell phone video of the officer being loaded into an ambulance was taken by police, he said.

“What has this world come to?” Harris said in a subsequent e-mail to The Tampa Tribune. He said he was listening to a police helicopter overhead searching for the suspect.

“Every time I hear the sound of that helicopter, it sends chills down my spine and gives me the goose bumps like no other,” he said. "To know that one of our city’s finest is dead for doing his … job is too much for words to explain.

“My neighbor and I witnessed the shooting this evening pretty much in our front yard,” Harris said. "Both him and I could barely hold back the tears because we both have a family that comes from law enforcement.

“When I saw that officer … laying on the corner bleeding to death, I didn’t just see a random officer there,” he said. “I saw my father there laying on the ground bleeding to death.”

Justin Matejcik, 32, who lives on Third Avenue South within sight of the shooting scene, said he was asleep when he heard what sounded like a heated argument. Then, he said, he heard a series of gunshots and someone in distress yelling for help.

Police initially received a call of a suspicious person or prowler who was in the 700 block of Third Avenue South. The caller told police the suspect had a brick in his hand and they feared he might use it to break in to a building to commit a burglary.

The caller described the suspect as a black male who was 18 to 20 years old and wearing a black hoodie, Harmon said.

The suspect may have lost one of his shoes leaving the scene, police spokesman Mike Puetz said. Details on the type of shoe were not immediately available.

Officer Donald Ziglar arrived about 10:34 p.m. and seconds later Crawford pulled up, Harmon said.

Crawford confronted a suspect at Second Avenue South and Eighth Street South and was shot multiple times. He returned fire but the suspect was able to run away.

It’s not clear whether the suspect was shot, Puetz said.

“This is where a search in daylight hours will be a little more thorough,” he said. “A cursory search does not show any positive signs that that took place.”

At 10:37 p.m., police received a report that an officer had been shot.

Crawford was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead hours after the shooting. Ziglar wasn’t shot or injured. Investigators were interviewing him early Tuesday morning, Harmon said.

Harmon said he had little detail on the suspect. But he urged residents to call (727) 893-7780 if they saw something or someone suspicious.

The shooting comes on the heels of the deaths of Baitinger, 48, and Yaslowitz, 39. Fugitive Hydra Lacy Jr. shot them and wounded a deputy U.S. marshal as authorities tried to capture him in a south St. Petersburg home. Lacy died in the standoff.

Foster asked residents to pray for the Crawford, his family and all the officers on the force.

“We’re still healing from the first tragedy, and it’s going to take some time,” he said. “We’ve been nicked again, but these men and women are strong,” he said. “And they’re pros. And they’re back on the street protecting our citizens.”

Throughout the night and morning, police officers in uniform and plainclothes gathered at the hospital. Unlike last month when Baitinger and Yaslowitz were shot – and there was no armed man on the loose – there is no parade of officers showing up at the hospital.

Just after 6 a.m., the van from the medical examiner’s office arrived.

Blue and red police lights flash through the fog in the distance as many streets in the area continue to be shut down. About two dozen police officers, some in uniform and others plainclothes, lined up outside the hospital as the body was taken to the medical examiner’s office.

They offered a salute to the officer as his body was taken away in the van. A police cruiser escorted the van from the scene.

More than a dozen squad cars lined the streets around the hospital on this fog-shrouded morning and downtown St. Petersburg is an armed camp.

One officer leaving the hospital declined comment, but the mood of the morning was etched clearly on his face.

“We live in a fallen world,” he said before quietly walking away.

Chris Werner manages the Tropical Smoothie Cafe across the street from the hospital and was late getting to work this morning because of all the road closures in the area.

He was shocked at the news that another officer had been killed.

“It’s unreal to think that could happen again,” Werner said. “The fact that someone would take a life like that shows they are not afraid of anything. It’s scary.”

Werner lives on the south side of town where both incidents occurred.

“Last time was kind of haunting, too,” he said. “I’m considering moving out of the neighborhood.”

St. Petersburg police car 2712, driven by Crawford, is still parked at Third Avenue South and Eighth Street South, in front of the AAA Plaza.

Law enforcement has set up a staging area in a lot on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and First Avenue South. Police, Pinellas deputies and the FBI are fanning out from there, looking for a suspect.

The search is concentrated in the Campbell Park area, roughly Fourth Street South to 16th Street South and Fourth Avenue South to 15th Avenue South, near Tropicana Field, police said.

Campbell Park, at 16th Street South and Seventh Avenue South, had been cordoned off. Officers patrolled the area carrying rifles and walking with K-9 units. Roads also were closed.

Interstate signs warned motorists of police activity near Tropicana Field and to avoid the area.

Residents in the neighborhood have been advised to stay inside with their doors locked.

Nine officers in Florida have been killed in the line of duty this year – as many as all of last year, according to The Officer Down Memorial Page website. Monday’s shooting marks the 29th officer to die in the line of duty this year, compared with 162 last year.

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