New York Daily News

April 10, 2014



Officer Dennis Guerra dies after days-long fight for life following Coney Island fire; teen arson suspect faces murder charge

The NYPD officer never woke up after being knocked unconscious by toxic smoke Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn. Mayor de Blasio ordered all of the flags flown at half-staff in honor of the married father of four and charges against arson suspect Marcell Dockery, 16, are expected to be upgraded as soon as Friday.


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Anguished cops at Police Headquarters honored Wednesday the service and bravery of fallen comrade Police Officer Dennis Guerra.

A cop who inhaled toxic smoke in a Coney Island arson fire died on Wednesday, leaving the city to mourn a hero and a smirking teen on the brink of murder charges.

Officer Dennis Guerra  

The death of Police Officer Dennis Guerra three days after he fell injured in the blaze set off a range of emotions from shock to rage to sadness, as flags flew at half-staff around the city.

“One minute you’re ready to start yelling, then out of respect for the family, you start crying,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.

Hundreds of cops stood solemnly outside 1 Police Plaza to hear Commissioner Bill Bratton eulogize their lost brother.

“Police Officer Guerra gave his life trying to save others,” Bratton said before taps was played by a lone trumpeter and a police helicopter hovered above. “And that is the ultimate selfless act.”

Bratton later delivered a Twitter tribute for the second-generation NYPD officer: “He will always be remembered as he lived, a hero.”


Mayor de Blasio also heaped praise on the first cop killed in the line of duty since his arrival at City Hall.
“We’ve lost a good man,” said de Blasio, who visited Guerra on Tuesday while the officer was on a respirator at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

“A very brave police officer . . . who did something that most of us wouldn’t know how to do: He went selflessly toward the flames,” the mayor said to gasps at the opening of the annual National Action Network convention.

Guerra, 38, a married father of four, never regained consciousness after facing the black cloud of smoke as the elevator doors opened on the 13th floor of a NYCHA building on Surf Ave. Sunday afternoon. He died at 6:50 a.m. Wednesday.

Family members of critically injured police officer Rosa Rodriguez attend a ceremony in honor of Dennis Guerra
Members of NYPD Housing Bureau huddle together to console each other Wednesday after the ceremony to honor Police Officer Dennis Guerra.
Flags fly at half-mast at this Housing Bureau precinct where Officer Dennis Guerra worked.
J. COUNTESS/GETTY IMAGES                                                                          JASON DECROW/AP
Mayor de Blasio (left) and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton honored slain Officer Dennis Guerra Wednesday.

Marcell Dockery, 16, who lives on the 12th floor of the building, told cops he was bored and set the fire about 12:30 p.m. He was initially charged with assault, arson and reckless endangerment. Now he’s likely to be charged with murder.

(He) did something that most of us wouldn’t know how to do: He went selflessly toward the flames.
Sources told the Daily News the charges against Dockery will be elevated as early as Friday when an indictment is unsealed in Brooklyn Criminal Court. He’s expected to be charged with second-degree murder. If convicted, he’ll have 25 years to life in prison to think about his careless stunt. He’ll be prosecuted as an adult.

“It’s not a free ride, he should pay,” Lynch said. “He murdered a New York City police officer and we won’t forget that.”
Guerra — a former school safety agent and city correction officer — was the first NYPD officer to die in the line of duty since the Dec. 12, 2011, shooting of Officer Peter Figoski, also in Brooklyn.

Police quickly determined the fire was not accidental: it was arson.

Guerra was found outside an elevator and remained unresponsive for the next three days. Officer Rosa Rodriguez — who was not Guerra’s regular partner — remained in critical condition Wednesday at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell. She also raced into the fire.

The two housing cops were returning from taking a prisoner to Brooklyn Central Booking when the fire call came in. The pair reached the building before other first responders and immediately went upstairs toward the fire, Bratton said.

Rodriguez, 36, is the parent of four kids.

In the Far Rockaway, Queens, neighborhood where Guerra lived with his wife Cathy and four kids, residents reacted with sadness and shock Wednesday to word of his heartbreaking death.

“They are a perfect family, beautiful,” said Eber Urias, who has done landscaping at the Guerra home for the last 10 years. “He was a nice person.”

One neighbor recounted watching quietly as Guerra taught his 7-year-old son to ride a bicycle on their block just two days before his final Sunday shift.

“He was very involved with his family,” said next-door neighbor Rafael Stefansky. “This is horrible, a tragedy. It’s very sad.”

A police cruiser was parked outside the house where Guerra once made room for a stray dog found wandering on the local streets.

“He adopted her and (she) had puppies,” recalled local resident Rabbi David Zwi Van Der Velde. “That was the kind of guy he was. He was a really good man.”

On the day before Sunday’s deadly fire, the rabbi recalled seeing Guerra outside the family house.

“He looked fine, happy,” said Van Der Velde. “Like he always did.”

Friends said Guerra’s death leaves behind a gaping hole.

“He was the neighbor who looked out for everybody,” said Firefighter Joe Tarantino, 46, of FDNY Ladder 138. “It was actually comforting to know there was a police officer living down the block.”

De Blasio extended the sympathy of the entire city to Guerra’s relatives.

“I have gotten to know his family in the past few days, a wonderful family,” he said. “On behalf of all New Yorkers, our hearts go out to them.”

With Rocco Parascandola, Tina Moore and Jennifer Fermino