New York Daily News

December 6, 2006

'My friend is dead'

Bell's pal Benefield sez no warning, no 4th man

BY ALISON GENDAR and CORKY SIEMASZKO DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS

Sitting in a wheelchair, a survivor of the 50-shot police barrage that killed Sean Bell on his wedding day said, "I thought I was going to die."

"I've seen hell before," Trent Benefield said yesterday before being released from Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens. "I never thought it would be me."

In his first public statements since the Thanksgiving weekend shooting, Benefield bolstered the claims of fellow survivor, Joseph Guzman - who told the Daily News a day earlier that the plainclothes cops failed to identify themselves before opening fire on the unarmed men.

"One of my friends is dead," Benefield told New York 1. "Everyone is shot up. I'm shot up. We need justice."

Benefield, 23, who managed to crawl out of the backseat of Bell's car after being shot three times, also denied police assertions that a fourth man was in Bell's Nissan Altima before the Nov. 25 shooting.

"No," he said in a soft voice, his damaged left leg sticking straight out with a rod holding it in place. "No fourth man."

Benefield's account of Bell's death has been consistent since the shooting. Just minutes after the gunfire, a bleeding Benefield told The News through a friend, "The police didn't identify who they were. They just pulled guns out."

"Sean saw a guy dressed just like us pulling a gun," Benefield told the pal before being placed into an ambulance. "He just wanted to try and drive away."

Guzman, 31, remains in stable condition with multiple gunshot words. He told The News he was aware that Bell's death was roiling the mostly black area of Jamaica, Queens, and called on outraged residents to stay calm. Benefield echoed those sentiments yesterday.

"I don't want nobody to go through this," he said. "We need justice."

Benefield, who also revealed he was about to become the father of a son, was taken by stretch limo last night to a midtown meeting with the Rev. Al Sharpton and other community leaders, who are planning a Dec. 16 march down Fifth Ave.

After receiving a standing ovation, Benefield thanked everyone "for sticking by me" and then wept.

Benefield spoke a day after The News learned from law enforcement sources that he and his pals had been the targets of a police probe into a drug ring operating out of the Baisley Park apartments in South Jamaica. All three had been busted before on drug charges.

Attorney Michael Hardy, who is representing Benefield, Guzman and Bell's fiancée, accused cops of trying to "dirty up the victims." Pressed by reporters to say who specifically, Hardy said, "Ask Pat Lynch," referring to the president of the city's largest police union.

"Patently untrue," Lynch said later. "All we've consistently asked for is a through and fair investigation of the case."

Lynch has defended the five cops who fired the fatal shots while ripping Mayor Bloomberg for saying the police shooting appeared "excessive."

Bloomberg declined to discuss the victims' prior arrests yesterday. "We certainly don't want to prejudice" the investigation, he said, referring to a probe led by the Queens district attorney's office and monitored by the Justice Department.

The cops - one Hispanic, two white and two black - were placed on paid leave without their guns pending the outcome of the probe.

The shooting erupted near the seedy Kalua Cabaret in Jamaica where Guzman and Benefield threw a bachelor party for Bell. Believing Guzman was armed, an undercover cop followed the men to Bell's car about 4 a.m. and fired the opening salvo. No gun was found in Bell's car.

With Mike Jaccarino, Greg Wilson and Oren Yaniv