St. Petersburg reeling from shock of second fatal police shooting in a month

ST. PETERSBURG — Disbelief and shock settled in moments after Monday night's fatal shooting of veteran police officer David Crawford.

The scene was too familiar, the feelings still too raw.

A stunned police chief stood outside of Bayfront Medical Center's trauma center entrance, again. Mayor Bill Foster and City Council members gathered somberly, again. Police officers sobbed on cell phones and hugged each other, again.

Thirty years passed with no St. Petersburg police officers were killed in the line of duty. Now three were dead in less than 30 days.

A teary Foster, who held a news conference at the hospital at about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, called it "hell."

"Cities don't prepare for this," he said. "Departments don't prepare for this."

Monday night's shooting happened just after 10:30 p.m. near Eighth Street and Third Avenue S. Police said Crawford, 46, was shot multiple times and also returned fire. The 25-year veteran was later pronounced dead at Bayfront.

Crawford's family arrived at the hospital early Tuesday morning. By dawn, police officers, city officials and citizens throughout the community had gone sleepless as the manhunt continued for the killer.

"People were starting to move on, so this is like rebreaking a leg that was just beginning to heal," said City Council Member Karl Nurse, one of the first officials to arrive at Bayfront after the shooting.

Officers Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz and Thomas Baitinger were killed Jan. 24 in a confrontation with an armed suspect in an attic. Police laid siege to Lacy's home at 3734 28th Ave. S in St. Petersburg with armored vehicles and nearly destroyed it until his body was found hours later.

Earlier Monday, some 280 people attended a golf fundraiser for the officers' families at Feather Sound Country Club.

City Council member Leslie Curran, who also stood by at the hospital as news spread of Crawford's death, said she worried how the police and community will cope with this latest crisis.

"They were going good, and they were in fundraising mode for Yaslowitz and Baitinger," she said. "It's just so tragic. I just don't know. There's just going to be a lot of sorting out. It's a terrible day for the police and for the city. Hopefully, we'll get the guy, and quickly."

The tense hospital scene felt like a replay of the last. Police cars surrounded Bayfront and officers both in uniforms and plainclothes streamed in and out of the trauma center. Only a half hour after Crawford entered the hospital — and two hours before the mayor and police chief officially announced his death — a hysterical officer sobbed into his cell phone. A woman came outside and crouched against a wall, holding her face in her hands.

People soberly watched around midnight as a white van with flashing lights arrived and two men unloaded coolers, presumably intended for organ donations, and wheeled them toward the emergency room.

At 6:18 a.m. Tuesday, a medical examiner's van left Bayfront Medical Center. Uniformed and plainclothes police officers lined up along a driveway on either side of the van and saluted as the it passed, accompanied by two police cars with their emergency lights flashing.