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St. Pete woman hit by falling bullet says it could have killed her

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 07:58 AM

Laurie Eberhardt used to teach kindergarten, so the damage an assault rifle can do has been fresh on her mind since the Sandy Hook school shootings.

When police told her the bullet pulled from her arm this morning looks like it came from an AK-47, the danger hit home.

"This has to stop," said Eberhard, 67, who was injured when the bullet apparently fell from the sky around midnight as she watched the fireworks show in downtown St. Petersburg.

"It was one of the most horrifying experiences of my life," Eberhardt said this afternoon, recuperating at her Beach Drive home where she lives with her husband Henry.

"I felt it was about a millimeter away from killing me."

Eberhardt was leaning against a balcony railing on the second floor of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, 11 Central Ave., when she felt something strike near her wrist on the pinky finger side.

She was watching the finale of two downtown fireworks shows New Year's Eve, which drew crowds of spectators to the Vinoy Basin.

St. Petersburg police reported no other injuries from falling bullets. Where the shot may have been fired has not been determined.

But police told Eberhardt it could have been miles away.

That heightened her concerns about the dangers of assault rifles, with their high-velocity rounds, extended clips and potential for rapid firing.

A lone shooter used a Bushmaster assault rifle Dec. 14 in the slaying of 26 people, most of them kindergarten students, at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

"I'm a former kindergarten teacher so my heart went out to the children and families in Connecticut," Eberhardt said. "I never thought I – or they – would be hit by fire from an assault rifle."

Eberhardt has never owned a gun but learned how to use one growing up in a hunting family.

"I know how to shoot at a range. It was a requirement in my family."

She has stitches and a bandage on her right arm where the bullet hit, but luckily, she said, no broken bones. Eberhardt is right-handed.

A practitioner of Shiatsu Yoga, she's hoping the team at Bayfront Medical Center was right when they told her she should expect a full recovery.

Authorities in the Tampa Bay area were called to another incident where guns were fired into the sky New Years Eve, this time witnessing the act outside a home in Bradenton and arresting four people when a skirmish resulted.

Manatee County sheriff's deputies identified the four as Demetrick Edwards, who was seen firing a .45-caliber pistol into the air about 11 p.m.; an unidentified 17-year-old male; the 17-year-old's mother Rosa Espinosa; and his brother Joel Maldonado. The arrests were made in the 600 and 700 blocks of 33rd Avenue Dr. East.

In addition, authorities in Jacksonville said a stray bullet hit the foot of an 8-year-old boy downtown just before midnight. The boy told his father something had hurt his foot and when the father examined the shoe, he found a bullet.

The incidents come days after the launch in Tampa of a national campaign aimed at bringing a halt to celebratory shooting. Leading the "Bullet Free Skies" effort is Sandy Duran, mother of 13-year-old Diego Duran of Ruskin, who was seriously injured by gunfire while watching New Year's fireworks last year.

What would Laurie Eberhardt say if she could confront the person who fired the bullet that struck her this New Year's Eve?

"I would say, 'There's got to be a better use for your weapon,'" she said. "Maybe protecting your home. I can't see any reason to be shooting off an AK-47 like this. Please fire it in another way."

 


djoyce@tampatrib.com, (813) 259-7604

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