CLEARWATER — A gun battle outside the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa — followed by a second shooting just down the street — on Memorial Day left visitors and business owners wondering whether the publicity would damage Clearwater Beach's reputation as the family-friendly get-away.
“I'm kind of concerned about the foot traffic and the tourism now,” Jessica Palmer, who sells tickets at Sea Screamer, which guarantees dolphin sightings during its boat tours, said Tuesday.“... so now if they hear there was a shooting they won't want to bring their kids to the beach.”
After the Hyatt shoot-out, the end of a Memorial Day weekend turned from idyllic to horrifying, with SWAT team members escorting bikini-clad beachgoers from the hotel's open roof and down a service elevator to the lobby, which was made into a make-shift bunker. Roads to the island beach were closed.
Mayor George Cretekos said he was getting on the Jolly Trolley at the round-about where visitors finally reach the barrier island when squad cars whizzed by.
Clearwater Beach is typically so quiet, visitors presumed the sirens were for a car accident, not gun violence.
“There is a perception out there, the perception there was chaos on the streets last night,” Cretekos said. “There was for a short time, but within four hours the beach was open, and part of the beach didn't know what was going on.”
The crew at Frenchy's Rockaway, on the north beach, was unaware of the violence, including the man who was shot in the groin outside of its sister business, Frenchy's South Beach Cafe just south of the Hyatt, Rockaway bar manager Rick Vega said Tuesday.
“If it wasn't for a couple of customers that told us about it, or the news, we would have known nothing,” he said. “I've worked here almost 22 years. In my opinion that was a rare incident. I'm not worried at all.”
City Council member Hoyt Hamilton, whose family has owned the Palm Pavilion restaurant and shop at the north beach for some 50 years, echoed that sentiment.
“I think the potential is always there for the negative, but what needs to be accentuated is, 'This is truly an anomaly,'” Hamilton said. “We're trying to remember the last time gunfire occurred on Clearwater Beach. We had to go all the way back to the late 70s.”
Tuesday evening, some 24 hours after the pandemonium broke out, investigators still were trying to piece together three separate incidents, determine to what extent, if any, they might have been related.
It began about 6:50 p.m., when a group at Second Street and Coronado Drive was exchanging sharp words with another “rival” group, which had gathered on a temporary parking lot north of the Hyatt, according to city spokeswoman Joelle Castelli and police records.
A person in the parking lot, identified as Jerry Lee Holmes Jr., 31, 3201 N. 15th St., Tampa, pulled a .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun from his waistband and fired three shots, but the bullets struck the hotel, arrest affidavits say. At least 250 rooms in the hotel were occupied at the time.
The other group then ran up the ramp of the Hyatt parking garage, and fired several shots back at Holmes and his associates. They then fled the garage and they haven't been identified. A man in the immediate area was shot in the hand and fled.
Holmes, who works for the city of Tampa, admitted to the crime, and was charged with throwing a deadly missile into a building.
Another suspect, Kayvuis Deandre Pringle, who had told authorities he was Terrance Antonio Kirnes, 20, of 5205 86th St., Tampa, also was arrested in connection with the Hyatt stand-off at 301 S. Gulfview Blvd., affidavits say. Pringle told police he was in a “mutual combat fight” outside the Hyatt — with several young men beating him — when he heard shots, affidavits say, and started running.
Witnesses looking down at the melee from the parking garage identified Pringle, who wasn't wearing a shirt, as being involved in the confrontation, but he ran from police. Kirnes was charged with resisting an officer without violence.
Then, in an incident at 7:36 p.m., Devonte Saunders was shot in the groin at 351 S. Gulfview Blvd., outside Frenchy's, less than a quarter-mile south of the Hyatt, Castelli said. His shooter has not been arrested, although Castelli said Clearwater police were working with Tarpon Springs police to take him into custody. It is not believed the shooting was related to the stand-off at the Hyatt, and Saunders is expected to survive, she said.
Less than an hour later, at 8:30 p.m., authorities received a 911 call about a man wielding a Kel-tec 380 from a car at 91 Memorial Causeway after exchanging words with the occupants of another vehicle, arrest affidavits. Pinellas Sheriff's Office deputies arrested the man, identified as Jared Kashon Woodard, 19, 8116 N. Semmes St., Tampa, and it was discovered the serial numbers on the firearm had been filed off.
A passenger in his car, Jeffrey James Grier, 20, 1206 E. Seneca Ave., Apt. A, Tampa, had a .38-caliber revolver. Grier, who has a criminal record, was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and a felon in possession of ammunition.
He also was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia after deputies discovered he was carrying a glass pipe. and with violating terms of his probation on previous charges of possession of cocaine, burglary, and carrying a concealed firearm while trespassing,
It had not been determined if the two men had anything to do with the shooting at the Hyatt.
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