Wall Street Journal
April 10, 2014

 

NYPD Officer Injured in Brooklyn Fire Dies


Housing Officer Dennis Guerra Was Removed From Life Support Around 6:50 a.m.

    
Andrew Lamberson for The Wall Street Journal  

Flags fly at half-mast at police headquarters in Lower Manhattan after a ceremony in memory of Officer Dennis Guerra.

 

Police Officer Dennis Guerra's career in law enforcement began like so many others: In his mid-20s, he decided to follow in his parents' footsteps.

He started as a school safety agent in 2001 in Queens; his mother, Miriam, retired from the same job.

Officer Guerra later became a Department of Correction officer, and by 2006 he was sworn in as a New York Police Department officer. His father, Denitor, retired in 2004 as a decorated NYPD detective, officials said.

Officer Guerra, a 38-year-old married father of four, died Wednesday from severe injuries he suffered responding to an intentionally set mattress fire in a Coney Island high-rise earlier in the week, officials said.

    
NYPD  

Police Officer Dennis Guerra.

 

The seven-year veteran was removed from life support around 6:50 a.m. at Montefiore Medical Center.

He and his partner, Rosa Rodriguez, rode an elevator to the 13th floor of the Unity Towers on Sunday and were overcome by smoke as soon as the doors opened. They had to be rescued by firefighters. Officer Rodriguez remains in critical but stable condition, officials said.

"There's a startling reminder that what appeared to be a routine assignment can very quickly become deadly," Police Commissioner William Bratton told hundreds of officers in formal uniforms at a memorial outside police headquarters.

"Officer Guerra gave his life trying to save others and that is the ultimate selfless act," Mr. Bratton said as Officer Rodriguez's family members, including her son, brother and sister, looked on.

Shortly after, flags outside the department were lowered and an NYPD trumpet player performed "Taps." A department helicopter then flew by overhead.

At Police Service Area 1, where Officer Guerra was assigned to the Coney Island housing unit, purple and black bunting was hung in his honor. An officer, choked with emotion, said: "We have plenty of nice things to say about him—we worked with him day in and day out."

    
Andrew Lamberson for The Wall Street Journal  

Officers at a police headquarters ceremony on Wednesday.

 

At the nearby Unity Towers, residents lighted white and blue candles. Inside, fresh wet paint coated the walls of the 13th floor where the fire occurred. "He was a very sweet guy. As long as you weren't getting into trouble, no one had any problem with him," said Wanda Feliciano, the resident association president.

"He was so good for the building," she added, saying Officer Guerra would regularly canvas the building and then clue her in on what was happening.

Officer Guerra lived in the Bayswater section of Queens with his wife, Cathy, his mother and four children: Kathleen, 20; Jonathan 17; Alyssa, 14; and Zachary, 7, Mr. Bratton said.

Neighbors described him as a watchful eye, monitoring the area for trouble from his two-story home. The area was hit during superstorm Sandy, and residents said Officer Guerra's house sustained damage.

"He was just a great guy, he always watched your home when you were away," said Joe Tarantini, 46, a city firefighter whose parents live across the street from the Guerras. "He'd scare away any intruders."

Officer Guerra is credited with more than 70 arrests. Five years ago, he received a medal of excellence—a distinction his father got five times, officials said.

    
Steve Remich for The Wall Street Journal  

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton address reporters at a press conference at the Jacobi Medical Center on Sunday after two police officers were critically injured.

 

Brooklyn prosecutors charged Marcell Dockery, 16, who lives in the Unity Towers, with two counts of assault and one count each of arson and reckless endangerment. He told investigators he ignited the mattress because he was "bored," authorities said.

A law-enforcement official said Brooklyn prosecutors are likely to add charges against Mr. Dockery, and police have asked the Brooklyn district attorney's office to upgrade charges to felony murder. Typically, additional charges are presented to a grand jury. Prosecutors will know Friday if the teen has been indicted.

"A kid like that who's bored needs to realize every action there's a reaction and that reaction sometimes is life or death. In this case it was death," said Patrick Lynch, president of the NYPD officers' union.

The last time an NYPD officer died from injuries sustained in a fire was in 1987. Officer Francis LaSala rushed into a five-story residential building on East 21st Street in Manhattan after a mattress caught fire, officials said. The blaze was steps away from where his Emergency Service Unit was based.

Officer LaSala saved several people before he was trapped on a staircase, officials said. He died five days later.

The last officer to be killed in the line of duty was Peter Figoski, who was shot while responding to a Brooklyn robbery in December 2011.

Mayor Bill de Blasio asked for a moment of silence in Officer Guerra's honor at an unrelated event Wednesday. "He went selflessly towards the flames, selflessly towards those who were in danger, no matter what the risk to him," the mayor said.

—Adam Janos and Derek Kravitz contributed to this article.

Write to Pervaiz Shallwani at pervaiz.shallwani@wsj.com