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Car wash turns into shootout

Shots are exchanged between a husband and a man who tries to take his wife's purse at a St. Petersburg self-service car wash.

By LEANORA MINAI

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 26, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Cheryl Wojtkielewicz was eating an ice cream bar in her car when a man at the self-service car wash leaned over with a gun.

"Give me your purse or I'll kill you!" he demanded Tuesday morning.

Her husband, Raymond, was outside their Buick preparing to vacuum the back seat when he heard voices. He popped his head up and saw the gunman threatening his wife of 16 years.

The gunman, purse in hand, fired through the car twice, narrowly missing Wojtkielewicz.

With his wife shrieking from the front seat, Wojtkielewicz pulled a 9mm Luger from his waistband holster and squeezed the trigger, striking the robber.

"I'm so proud of him," Mrs. Wojtkielewicz said of her husband after the frightening ordeal.

The shoot 'em up at 4700 Central Ave. resembled a scene from a western movie with people taking cover as the exchange of at least seven bullets prompted frantic calls to police. The unidentified robber escaped, bleeding. No one else was injured.

Wojtkielewicz, 45, has had a permit for two years to carry a concealed weapon.

"This is the first time I've ever had to draw it," he said.

Wojtkielewicz, a former bread delivery man, is not facing charges.

"So far, it looks like a good shoot," said St. Petersburg robbery Detective Jim Shakas.

Wojtkielewicz got the concealed weapons permit for protection because he suffers from a disease that weakens his muscles, forcing him to use a cane to walk. He and his wife have four children and recently moved to St. Petersburg from Jacksonville.

The incident began at 10:36 a.m. when the Wojtkielewiczes pulled into a stall at the Car Wash on the southwest corner of 47th Street and Central Avenue. They wanted to vacuum their four-door Buick as well as a cage for their two dogs, Roscoe and Max.

Mrs. Wojtkielewicz, 45, stayed in the passenger seat and ate a Dove bar while her husband tried to remove the cage from the back seat of the driver's side.

Suddenly, the gunman appeared.

Stunned, Mrs. Wojtkielewicz took a double-take of the gun, thinking it was plastic. She does not recall how he got her heavy purse; either she picked it up from the floorboard and gave it to him, or he snatched it.

"I was so scared," she said.

The robber saw her husband on the other side of the car and fired. Her husband shot back once at the robber, who had moved between the front and rear doors along the passenger side.

"I was aiming for his heart," Wojtkielewicz said.

Police checked local hospitals and used dogs to track the robber's scent but did not find him late Tuesday.

The robber is described as a 5-foot-6 black male, weighing 180 pounds and about 25 years old. He was last seen driving a two-door white Buick Regal and wearing a brown shirt and ball cap. Anyone with information is asked to call the robbery squad at (727) 893-7266.

After the robber was shot, he dropped the purse and ran north around the west side of an adjacent laundry business. Inside the laundry, owner Jason Chandler, 24, grabbed his own gun and went to the window.

"Get help now!" Wojtkielewicz shouted.

Holding his pistol along his right side, Wojtkielewicz moved from stall to stall of the self-service car wash, looking for the robber.

"I didn't want to walk out like a clay pigeon," Wojtkielewicz said.

When Wojtkielewicz peered out from behind a Pepsi machine, the robber darted out from behind a parked van and fired four shots at Wojtkielewicz across the parking lot.

"I didn't fire back because of the houses nearby," Wojtkielewicz said.

The robber, leaving his blood at the scene, ran away wounded. He left his car running and door open. Detectives towed it away and are tracing it to see if its owner knows the suspect.

At Economy Stationers across 47th Street S, employees Ronnie Goral and Cheryl Stocks locked the front door and dialed 911 when they heard guns popping.

"In today's times, you're not safe anywhere," said Mrs. Goral, 52, who has worked at the store 27 years. "If they want you, they'll get you."

-- Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.

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