February 13, 2005

NYPD officer, woman killed in car collision


An off-duty police officer whose childhood dream was to become a cop was killed on his way to work Sunday morning in Brooklyn when a speeding sport utility vehicle shot through a stop sign and slammed into his car, police said.

Shannay Branch, 19, the daughter of the SUV's driver, Gary Wilkerson, also died in the crash that killed Officer Jehova Delgado, 27. They had been out celebrating her 20th birthday. Police said the father climbed out out of the wrecked vehicle and fled with another passenger. He and the passenger turned up at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center more than five hours after the accident. Wilkerson then suffered a heart attack at the hospital. Detectives were unable to interview Wilkerson, but law-enforcement officials said he is expected to be charged with two counts manslaughter, reckless endangerment, speeding and other charges. Investigators were trying to piece together what they were doing while they were missing. The remaining five passengers in the SUV were in serious but stable condition last night at Brookdale Hospital and Bellevue Hospital Center. The accident occurred at 5:35 a.m. at Putnam and Central avenues in Bushwick. Officer Jehova Delgado, 27, was driving to the 75th Precinct to work an overtime shift. The passengers in the Expedition, a mix of friends and family, were returning from a late-night party at a club, family said. The gathering was an early birthday party for Branch, who was turning 20 yesterday, family said. Wilkerson's speeding Expedition ran through a stop sign and slammed into Delgado's black Honda Civic, throwing him from the driver's side window. The Expedition flipped before landing on its side. Delgado and Branch died at the scene. Investigators spent yesterday examining the destruction at the scene. The Expedition was traveling so fast that when it collided with Delgado's car, the vehicles were pushed a hundred yards. The cars careened into two light poles at opposite corners of Central and Putnam avenues, collapsing both. Luzette Colon, 21, a local resident, said she heard the accident. "It was like boom, boom, boom, real slow," she said. "And another minute, I heard another boom. It must have been the light pole. He couldn't have gone slow." Residents Sunday complained the intersection is dangerous, and they demanded a traffic light.

Family, friends and colleagues of both victims were grief-stricken yesterday. When officer Delgado was a boy, he always insisted on playing cop when he and his older brother Leo would play cops and robbers.

"That's what he wanted to do with his life," Leo Delgado said. "He just loved his job." Delgado joined the department in July 2001 and was well respected by his colleagues. "He was a very well liked guy. He was loved by the whole community," said a colleague from the 75th Precinct. Branch moved to the city from North Carolina five years ago. She worked as an operator for Sears.

"She was an outgoing person," said her brother-in-law Marvin Blacke, 18. "You wouldn't expect anything like this to happen to her. "