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A benefit for heroes at Beef O'Brady's

PARRISH -- Before his death last month, Sgt. Thomas Baitinger of the St. Petersburg Police Department would meet friends about once a week at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s to get a drink and eat.

Now Baitinger’s friends and co-workers leave an empty chair and a glass of beer in his honor. He was shot and killed on duty last month, along with officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz.

On Wednesday, members and friends from the department sold T-shirts outside the Parrish and Lakewood Ranch locations of the restaurant with all the proceeds going to the families of both officers.

“He was always like that,” said officer Bill Burris, pointing at a photo of a smiling Baitinger, who lived in Palmetto. “It’s a great loss.”

The black shirts had their names on the front and the words “Fallen Warriors” written in silver on the back.

“I was there when it happened, me and Bill were both there. It was devastating,” said officer Ryan Bellittera, who helped sell shirts.

Meanwhile, each restaurant location in Manatee donated a percentage of their Wednesday sales to a fund for both officers.

The Parrish Beef ‘O’ Brady’s hoped to raise about $8,000, according to owner Tim Macri.

Throughout the day, people walked up to the tables set up outside the Parrish location and bought shirts for $15 or just donated money.

“We just wanted to give all the support we can,” said Scott Gordon, 44, who ate lunch at the restaurant and bought a shirt.

Some didn’t even get out of their cars. They simply stopped, handed over cash, and drove away. Others stopped to thank the officers for their service.

Courtney Converse went to the stand with her father, Allen, to show their support. Even though the shirt she got was a few sizes too big, she insists on wearing it out.

“I want to wear it in public,” said Courtney, 14. “Police officers do so much for us and I want to support them.”

Her father bought one shirt, but planned to return to buy at least five more.

Local law enforcement personnel also stopped by the location.

“It hit close to home,” said deputy Daina Patterson of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. “I know I’d get the same support in return.”

The outpouring of generosity meant a lot to Burris and the other officers.

“It helps us cope when people show us their appreciation,” Burris said.

Shirts can also be purchased for $20 (shipping including) online at www.pinpba.com.

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