April 10, 2014

NYPD Officer Dennis Guerra, critically injured in Brooklyn fire, dies


(Credit: NYPD; Charles Eckert)
Officer Dennis Guerra, left, 38, and the father of four, died at 6:50 a.m. Wednesday, April 9, 2014, at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, police said. An injured NYPD officer is transported by ambulance from Lutheran Hospital to Cornell Medical Center on Sunday, April 6, 2014.

One of two officers critically injured in a Coney Island high-rise fire last weekend died early Wednesday, shocking tearful colleagues who later mourned the first line-of-duty death of an officer in over two years.

Officer Dennis Guerra, a father of four, died at 6:50 a.m. at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx of smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning, police said. Officials said family members were at his bedside when he died.

Guerra, 38, and fellow housing police Officer Rosa Rodriguez, 36, both from Queens, were critically injured when they were overcome by dense smoke and toxic fumes from a mattress fire on the 13th floor of an 18-story high-rise at 2007 Surf Ave. Rodriguez, a mother of four, remained in critical but stable condition Wednesday, Police Commissioner William Bratton said.

"We in New York City this morning are hurting. . . . We lost a good man this morning, a very brave police officer, Officer Dennis Guerra," Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday, ordering flags to be flown at half staff on all city buildings and stationary flagstaffs citywide.

De Blasio asked for a moment of silence for Guerra as he opened the convention of the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, where hundreds in the audience gasped at the news.

The police department pulled together a poignant ceremony at noon yesterday to mark Guerra's passing. NYPD brass and members of Guerra's housing police unit, PSA-1, assembled at the front of One Police Plaza. Also in attendance were members of Rodriguez's family.

"The death of a police officer as a result of an intentional act not only affects an individual, it is indeed a direct assault upon society as a whole," Bratton told the crowd. "The entire city grieves this terrible loss.

"It is a startling reminder that what can appear to be a routine assignment can very quickly become deadly," Bratton added.

After Bratton spoke, a bugler sounded a 56-second strain of "Taps" as flags of the nation, the city and the NYPD were raised and quickly taken down to half staff. Then a solitary NYPD helicopter flew over the plaza.

Guerra will be buried Monday after a funeral Mass at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, 130 Beach 84th St., Rockaway Beach, at 11 a.m. Visitation is Sunday from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. at James Romanelli-Stephen Funeral Home, 89-01 Rockaway Blvd., Ozone Park, Queens.

Guerra's death marks the NYPD's first line-of-duty fatality since December 2011, when Officer Peter Figoski of West Babylon was shot during a Brooklyn robbery.

Guerra leaves behind his wife, Cathy, and four children: Kathleen, 20; Jonathan, 17; Alyssa, 14; and Zachary, 7. Funeral arrangements were incomplete Wednesday, officials said.

A law enforcement official said Wednesday that Guerra's death is likely to lead to upgraded charges this week against the 16-year-old resident of the Surf Avenue high-rise who is accused of starting the mattress fire. Marcell Dockery was arrested Monday and initially charged with arson, assault and reckless endangerment.

Surveillance cameras showed that Guerra and Rodriguez, who officials said had never worked together before Sunday, were the first officers to respond to a 911 call of a fire in building. Both entered an elevator at 12:31 p.m. and a minute later faced a barrage of smoke that overcame them when the door opened on the 13th floor. The NYPD is reviewing its procedures for responding to fires, a spokesman said.

"We pray that every young person who hears of the tragic passing of hero police officer Dennis Guerra and of the suffering of officer Rosa Rodriguez and their families, learns that there [are] deadly consequences that result from foolish actions," union president Patrick Lynch of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association said in a statement.

Lynch called on the Brooklyn district attorney to increase charges against Dockery. He became emotional speaking about Guerra's father, Denitor Guerra, 68, of Baldwin, a retired NYPD detective, losing his son.

With Darran Simon, Emily Ngo, John Valenti and Maria Alvarez