CLEARWATER BEACH — Clearwater police have made four arrests, but a search continues for more suspects after gunfire rang out at three locations in this Gulf-front community about 1 1/2 hours before sunset Monday.
Police said the shootings were preceded by a group- or gang-related argument.
At least two people were shot in the melee, officials said, which took place on a busy Memorial Day at the popular beach. One of the shooting victims was wounded in the groin area and taken to a Tampa hospital; the other was shot in the hand and fled, said Clearwater police spokeswoman Joelle Castelli.
Early this morning, Clearwater police announced the following arrests:
♦ Jeffrey Lee Holmes, 31, shooting into an occupied structure;
♦ Terrance Antonio Kirnes, 20, resisting an officer without violence;
♦ Jared Kashon Woodard, 18, Possession of marijuana and improper exhibition of dangerous weapon;
A fourth suspect, 20-year-old Jeffrey James Grier, faces Pinellas County Sheriff's Office charges including felon in possession of a firearm, drug possession, violation of probation;
Neither of the victims was a random bystander, Castelli said.
Authorities temporarily closed the two bridges onto Clearwater Beach — Memorial Causeway and the Sand Key Bridge — creating lengthy traffic back-ups. Eventually people who could prove they lived on the island were allowed to enter the community.
Castelli said the shootings began at 6:48 p.m. in a parking lot outside the Hyatt Clearwater Beach hotel, 301 S. Gulfview Blvd. After an argument involving a large group, one person left to retrieve a gun, the spokeswoman said. When he returned another person fired shots from the hotel's parking garage.
Another shooting occurred near Pier 60, about two blocks north of the Hyatt. Police did not say where the third shooting location was.
Castelli said the shootings were not random, and that officers were getting a handle on the commotion as quickly as possible. “We have a lot of police presence on the beach, especially on a holiday weekend,” she said.
“The safety of the beach residents is of the utmost importance to us,” Castelli said. “I would bring my family here tomorrow.”
When asked whether this was a gang-involved shooting, Castelli said police were “looking into all options.” She also said officers continued Monday night to check hotel rooms and elsewhere on the beach for any additional suspects.
A 17-year-old employee at Crabby Bill's Beach Walk Bar and Grill said employees and customers at the Gulf-front restaurant watched a group gather before the shooting started. She then heard what sounded like four gunshots, and she and others went to a back room of the restaurant and got on the ground.
“Once the shooting started everyone started running and getting down on the ground,” she said. About five minutes later, she said, most people went back to their normal routines.
She got a ride home. “I was pretty distraught after it,” she said.