Street killing is year's first
By ALICIA CALDWELL
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 12, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- Neighbors said it was a matter of time.
Random gunshots, drug dealing and people hanging around empty lots were far too common in the 900 block of Melrose Avenue S. Sooner or later, neighbors said, somebody was going to die.
That day came Thursday as a 33-year-old St. Petersburg man was shot to death in front of 991 Melrose Ave. S.
"It was inevitable," said Maria Scruggs-Weston as she stood in her yard, cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape.
Scruggs-Weston, running for mayor of St. Petersburg, said she was dressing for work about 8 a.m. when she heard a chilling combination of sounds.
"I heard the shots," said Scruggs-Weston, 43, who runs a breast cancer awareness program at St. Anthony's Hospital. "And I heard the bus for the 74th Street Elementary School at the same time."
Scruggs-Weston, who two years ago moved into 980 Melrose Ave. S., said she has been conditioned to call 911 when she hears gunshots. She did that and ran into her front yard, hoping that no children had been hurt. They had not.
But across the street, lying on the ground was a man St. Petersburg police identified as Nathaniel A. Stone of 3135 20th St. N. He had been shot several times in the upper torso, said Dan Bates, St. Petersburg police spokesman.
Authorities did not release details Thursday about what might have preceded the shooting, except to say that it appeared to stem from a confrontation in the alley behind 991 Melrose Ave. S.
Stone's fiancee said she did not know why Stone was on Melrose Avenue that morning, other than to perhaps visit friends who hung out there. Although the area is known for drug dealing, that is not why he was there, said Joanna Kassis.
"He wasn't doing any drug dealing," said Kassis, 25, who planned to marry Stone on Valentine's Day, his birthday. "He had a problem years ago, but no. He just had friends who lived down there, and I told him not to go. It was a bad area."
Pinellas criminal records show that Stone had numerous run-ins with the law, including convictions for armed robbery, battery, domestic violence and drug possession, though the drug charges were more than five years old.
Kassis said Stone graduated from Northeast High School, where he was a standout in football and basketball. As a high school basketball player, he was named player of the week nearly 15 years ago by St. Petersburg's Evening Independent newspaper.
Stone's homicide is the first of 2001 in St. Petersburg, Bates said.
Wanda Batts, 29, was getting ready for work when the shots rang out. Batts, who lives next door to Scruggs-Weston, said she saw a man running down Scruggs-Weston's driveway and into the alley.
"It's out of control," said Batts, a medical research coordinator who has a 23-month-old son. "The crime. The drugs. I'm trying to raise a child here."
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