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Riots erupt in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Oct. 24 -- The fatal shooting of a motorist during a routine police traffic stop Thursday night sparked a bottle and rock-throwing riot by an estimated 200 people who set fires to businesses and vehicles, police said. Riot police armed with shields and tear gas moved into the area to protect firefighters who were forced to retreat from burning vehicles and buildings when they were confronted by the rioters. Police said the driver was shot about 5:45 p.m. EDT when his car lurched forward during a traffic stop and officers believed he was attempting to run them over. He was pronounced dead at Bayfront Medical Center. Initial reports indicate several police officers were injured in the melee in the southern, predominantly black section of the city where the shooting occurred. At least one was shot in the arm but none of the injuries was critical, police said. In the first major racial riots in St. Petersburg in decades, at least one police car was set ablaze. 'I witnessed the torching of a police car,' said Vincent Ray, a reporter for WHNZ radio. 'A group of kids...doused it in gasoline and set it on fire.' A WTOG-TV cameraman, attempting to get footage of the riots from the station's live satellite truck, was injured by flying glass before he was able to escape the area. The truck was then set on fire. Cameraman David DeLong, who suffered cuts to his right arm when a rioter threw a concrete cinder block through the truck's window, said he felt 'lucky to be alive.

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I was just down there trying to do my job.' 'I was organizing my gear when I noticed several police cars right in front of me on fire and my truck was being hit by stones and bottles. I put my camera over my head and ran when a cinder block was thrown through the window,' he said. Bryan Marks, a spokesman for 44 WTOG News, said DeLong 'was very shaken up. He was still inside when they bombarded the truck with rocks and bricks. He was gone before the flames came, thank God.' DeLong said the truck, valued at $250,000, was parked behind some police cars that took the brunt of the rock-throwing. But as the police moved back, the television van was left isolated without any protection. 'The police backed up because it was too hectic. That's when they decided to burn it,' Marks said. 'We couldn't get the trucks out because the people driving the trucks had run in fear of their own lives.' As police expanded their perimeter to prevent the spread of rioting, residents living on the fringe of the cordoned area were seen sitting in lawn chairs outside their small deteriorating wooden homes and drinking beer, 'just waiting for something to happen,' said a photographer on the scene. Police helicopters, meanwhile, hovered over the lower-income black neighborhood -- often the scene of drug dealing. A Pinellas County sheriff's spokesman said at least 400 police officers were on the scene.

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