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School bus used to flee gunman

A desperate man, escaping a man shooting at him, jumps onto a school bus carrying elementary students.

By GRAHAM BRINK
Published March 8, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - Pursued by a gunman, Derrick Edwards ran across a school yard looking for cover. That's when he saw the yellow bus.

He pounded on the door, thinking his life depended on getting inside. The door opened and Edwards rushed in, joining the driver and 17 elementary school students. The bus pulled away.

Seconds later, two shots rang out, Edwards said.

Both of them missed, but the students screamed.

"All I heard was shooting," said student Jennifer Green.

The bus driver frantically called his dispatcher. The gunman followed in a car for several blocks before breaking off the chase. No one was hurt.

"If that door doesn't open," Edwards said a few hours later, "I'm dead right now."

The incident, which began a little after 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, forced officials to lock down two schools and evacuate the bus.

Late Wednesday, St. Petersburg police investigators were still looking for a suspect, Jason D. Scott, 27, of 1708 55 Terrace S, Apt. D.

Scott has an arrest record that includes domestic battery, driving under the influence and violation of probation, according to state records.

Pinellas County School District policy states that drivers should not allow anyone on buses unless they are on official school business, said district spokesman Sterling Ivey.

Given the circumstances and how quickly the events transpired, Ivey said he thought the driver made a spontaneous decision to help out Edwards.

The dispute erupted when Edwards went to see his 11/2-month-old baby girl.

Edwards said he had been trying to see her for weeks, but the mother, his ex-girlfriend, would not let him.

Edwards said his ex-girlfriend finally told him he could pick up the baby Wednesday afternoon at her mother's home in the 2400 block of 17th Avenue S.

Edwards left work early and arrived about 3:30 p.m. to find his ex-girlfriend's husband also at the home. The two men had fought twice before, Edwards said. They exchanged insults again Wednesday.

"Look, I have a rap sheet. But I'm trying to get things turned around," said Edwards, who went to prison on robbery, burglary and drug charges. "I'm working as a welder, a pipefitter, and I want to look after my baby. I didn't want to get in any trouble."

Edwards put the baby in a car seat and turned to leave.

"That's when he stuck a gun in my face," Edwards said.

When the baby's grandfather slapped the gun away, Edwards ran out the front door, leaving the car seat behind. The gunman soon followed. Edwards didn't think he had time to get to his car, so he ran across the grounds at Perkins Elementary School. The school was mostly empty since students were let out at 2:40 p.m.

"Call the police," he yelled at a teacher who was leading an afterschool program.

"Why?" Edwards remembered the teacher responding.

Before he could respond, Edwards heard the first shot ring out.

Pop!

He jumped over a fence.

Pop!

Another shot.

Losing his breath, Edwards saw the bus on 24th Street, which was letting off two students from Bay Point Elementary School.

"Open up!" Edwards recalled yelling through the door. "The guy is trying to kill me!" Once inside, Edwards heard the next two shots, instinctively ducking with each pop.

A few blocks later, he noticed that the gunman had jumped into a car and was following the bus. He told the bus driver, who was already on the radio asking his dispatcher to send the police.

Edwards said he tried to calm the students, who settled down a bit when the gunman turned off on a side street.

The bus stopped at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School, where police had responded. Thurgood and Perkins were locked down until the police and school officials determined the threat had passed. Crisis counselors will be available today to the children who were on the bus.

"I'm sorry for what I put them through," Edwards said. "But I didn't want to get shot."

[Last modified March 8, 2006, 23:02:02]


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