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Bullets end rage in street

photo
photo
[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
[Times photo: JIm Damaske]

A deputy shot a man near Northwood Plaza after the man tried to hijack two cars. He tried to take the Ford Tempo, left, and the Buick station wagon, center. The Ford struck the rear of a truck that braked near an entrance to the center's parking lot. The man was shot twice, but his injuries are not thought to be life-threatening.  In photo at right, fellow deputies comfort Charlie Street, who shot the fleeing suspect.


"It was like something from a movie," says a witness after a suspect is shot while trying to pull drivers from their cars.

By JANE MEINHARDT

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


CLEARWATER -- As dozens of stunned shoppers watched, sheriff's deputies chased a man through a shopping center parking lot and shot him as he twice choked elderly motorists on busy Enterprise Road on Tuesday.

The man, whose identity had not been determined late Tuesday, was unarmed. He was shot in the abdomen and grazed on the right hip.

He had run from Pinellas County deputies investigating a call about a man using phony documents to get a state identification card. Witnesses said he tried to hijack two vehicles as he fled.

The man, described as 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds, was in fair condition at Bayfront Medical Center. Sheriff's officials said his injuries were not life-threatening. No one else was injured.

Sheriff's Sgt. Greg Tita said the man was charged with hijacking, attempted hijacking and resisting arrest with violence. Other charges are expected, Tita said.

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[Times photo: Jim Damaske]
Pinellas County Sheriff's Lt. Norm Romanosky escorts Russell Elwell, 83, through the crime scene. Elwell was attacked as he turned his white Ford west on Enterprise Road from Northwood Plaza.
"It was like something from a movie," said Jerry Sloan, an Ontario visitor who had stopped at a coffee shop at the shopping center. "This big ... guy was running through all these cars, and the cops were chasing him. It didn't look like he had a gun, but they had theirs out."

Sloan said he ducked down in his car and heard some yelling andthree to four gunshots.

Tita said deputy Charlie Street fired four shots from his 9 mm handgun. Street, a deputy since 1995, was put on paid leave pending investigations into the shooting by the Sheriff's Office and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, which is standard. Internal Affairs officials said Street has not been involved in a previous shooting. Tita said Street shot the man to protect two drivers who were in danger.

Employees at the state driver's license office in Oakbrook Plaza at Enterprise and McMullen-Booth Road called deputies at 10:30 a.m. after they became suspicious of a man who had what appeared to be a fake Social Security card. Street and deputy Ryan Buckley responded and asked the man to step out of the driver's license office.

"This is a big guy," Tita said. "They said to each other that they hoped he didn't try to fight them. They told him they were going to cuff him for safety reasons while they talked to him. That's when he took off."

With Street and Buckley chasing him, the man ran northeast through the Oakbrook Plazaparking lot and toward the Northwood Plaza exit on the north side of Enterprise Road. Russell Elwell, 83, of Clearwater, was at the wheel of his white Ford Tempo, pulling out of Northwood Plaza to go west.

The man reached in the window, grabbed Elwell around the neck, opened the door and tried to drag him from the car, Tita said. Elwell resisted, and the Ford continued slowly west as the two men struggled, dragging Elwell's assailant on his knees at one point.

Elwell declined to comment.

UPS driver David Dzien, headed east on Enterprise, made a turn into Oakbrook Plaza and saw what was happening.

"I saw this big guy trying to beat and drag this old man out of a car," said Dzien. "The car was still moving with the door open. The guy had the old man in a choke hold, and he was just petrified. The (deputies) were running behind the car and yelling at the big guy to get away from the car. They had their guns out, pointing up."

Then Street fired three times, Tita said. The bullets hit the right side of Elwell's car and grazed his attacker's hip.

Ronald Whitby, 41, of St. Petersburg watched the drama unfold in his rear-view mirror as he drove a pool supply truck in front of Elwell's Ford. Tita said Whitby, who could not be reached, braked, intentionally causing the Ford to hit the rear of his truck before turning into the west entrance to Northwood Plaza.

Pinellas County Sheriff's detectives examine Russell Elwell's car after the shooting. It was hit by several bullets.
photo
[Times photo: Jim Damaske]

The man trying to hijack the Ford dropped to the pavement, got up and ran to a Buick station wagon pulling out of Northwood Plaza. Phil Pendleton, 82, of Safety Harbor, was driving with his 77-year-old wife, Teresa, in the front passenger seat.

Tita said the man grabbed Pendleton around the neck and choked him while trying to pull him out of the Buick. "He put an arm-lock around the driver's neck," Tita said. "Street ran around the truck and ordered him to let go of the driver."

When the man refused, Street fired one shot that hit the man in the abdomen. He fought with deputies who tried to handcuff him and was subdued with pepper spray.

Pendleton's wife said she and her husband would not comment about what happened. Officials at the driver's license office also declined to comment.

It was the second shooting involving a deputy in about a month. Cameron Woods, 29, was fatally shot in Clearwater Feb. 24 by deputy Bryan Taritano, a field training officer who was accompanied by recruit Darren Hogg.

According to sheriff's officials, Woods tried to grab Hogg's gun in a struggle. Investigations into the shooting are incomplete.

A similar fraud complaint at a driver's license office on Countryside Boulevard led to a fatal shooting by a Clearwater police officer in 1986.

Officer Dennis Acker shot Vincent Young Cremata, 52, when Cremata reached for a gun in his briefcase. Cremata, 52, was wearing a wig and had been convicted of racketeering several months earlier for bilking people out of $1.7-million in an investment scheme. He was free on bail pending an appeal.

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