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Officers Thomas Baitinger and Jeffrey Yaslowitz: "Greatest guys you could ask to be friends with"

5:42 PM, Jan 26, 2011   |    comments
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St. Petersburg, Florida - One by one, they shed tears and their deepest emotions after losing two friends.

For the first time since the tragic standoff on Monday, the closest friends and colleagues of two fallen St. Petersburg police officers came forward to share their grief and talk about their fellow officers who lost their lives in the line of duty.

Photo Gallery: Pictures from the scene of the shooting

Sergeant Tom Baitinger and Officer Jeff Yaslowitz were called the "greatest guys you could be friends with."

Major Cheryl Oliver talked about her close friendship with Sgt. Tom Baitinger, whom she and others nicknamed "Bait." Through tears, she told the media, "I knew him not only as a colleague but as a friend. And it's hard, but I just know, there's a purpose for everything."

Major Oliver said her good friend had a way about him, a presence that seemed to lift up everyone around him.  Sgt. Baitinger was deeply in love with his wife, Paige and even though the couple didn't have any children, they were known to love kids.

Major Mike Kovacsev said, "Tom was a great guy.  He was phenomenal.  He died doing what he loved."

Bait was called a "wonderful person" who recognized the spiritual background of others, someone who was always willing to listen.

Major Oliver said, "He always recognized background that I had from that, so we can talk about things, gave us strength to go through things."

And, then there was his playful side - his fierce love and devotion to the Green Bay Packers. His desk was covered with memorabilia.  One officer admits to stopping by the desk after Bait's passing, just to look at the pictures and feel his presence.

K9 Officer Jeff Yaslowitz was known as a family man and spiritual person who spent Sundays in church with his wife Lorraine and their three children. 

An undercover officer who did not want his identity revealed, teared up at the podium as he talked about Jeff, known as "Yaz" to his buddies. 

He said, "It's part of the job getting there first.  We are what they call first responders.  That's what he did, that's what his job was, first on scene to help people who needed help."

Last night, Yaz's daughter drew a picture for her father of a face with tears.  It read, "I miss you. You will be dearly loved."

Yaz was also avid athlete who loved playing sports with his friends and colleagues.  In one case, he broke his ankle during a football game.  A few weeks later, with it still broken, he tried out as a K9 officer and passed with flying colors.  Yaz was also a huge Red Sox fan and took ribbing from his buddies as they tried to convert him to supporting the Rays.

The undercover officer said through tears, "I know it's gonna be OK. Yaz went first this time. He'll be waiting for us, and I can count on him."

Melanie Michael, 10 News

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