Bystanders come to rescue

Published May 12, 2007

TAMPA - Dan Pitts and Bryan Cardenas were loading a pickup with fishing gear before dawn Friday on Taliaferro Street when gunshots exploded nearby.

They saw a bloodied Tampa police officer stagger from a house around the corner.

Officer John Armao had been shot in the face and shoulder while trying to arrest a man newly released from prison.

In seconds, the two fishermen had the wounded officer in their arms as they tried to keep him awake and alive.

The officer, a father of three, survived. The man police say shot him took his own life Friday in a working-class neighborhood near Busch Gardens.

Just 40 minutes earlier, Armao, two fellow police officers and a bail bondsman had approached the house at 711 N Castle Court, looking for Kevin D. Hunter, 38.

Hunter was released from prison in March. He had previously been convicted of cocaine trafficking, sexual battery, kidnapping and battery on a law enforcement officer.

But he failed to appear in court recently on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon. A warrant was issued for his arrest.

His girlfriend, Roshawnda D. Rhanes, said Hunter wasn't home. But he was, along with a baby and two small children.

Armao, 40, found the suspect in a bedroom. "Show your hands, " Armao yelled.

But Hunter came up with a large-caliber revolver and shot Armao in the shoulder and cheek, police said.

Pitts and Cardenas, both painters, didn't know any of that, but they heard the sound of the gun.

"That thing is like a mini cannon, " Pitts said of the revolver. "That thing's so loud, you don't hear nothing else."

They saw the bail bondsman pointing mace at Hunter but didn't see the other officers.

And Armao needed help. The men ran to him and guided him toward the shelter of Pitts' truck.

Hunter appeared, and the shots continued.

Cardenas, 18, and Pitts, 40, say they tried to shield Armao with their bodies as they fled.

"I figured he's already had a couple, so I could take one for him, " Cardenas said.

They hid behind the truck until the shots stopped coming.

They tried to get Armao into the house, but he saw Pitts' two children peeking out.

"Armao told Dan he would not go in that house for fear of endangering his children, " Cardenas said.

Pitts' wife, Gwen, put a tourniquet and ice on Armao's shoulder, Cardenas said. Through it all, Armao, a 17-year veteran of the Tampa Police Department, never loosened his grip on the gun, the men said.

"He still wanted to get out there, " Cardenas said.

More officers arrived.

Hunter's girlfriend, Rhanes, fled the house with one of her children.

At 6:53 a.m., police say, Hunter shot himself in the head.

Police charged Rhanes with being an accessory to the shooting and a felon in possession of a firearm.

Armao was in fair condition after undergoing surgery at Tampa General Hospital Friday.

Staff writers Abbie VanSickle and Casey Cora and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Michael A. Mohammed can be reached at mmohammed@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3404.