December 6, 2007  

Cop indicted in death of unarmed motorist

By Joshua Rhett Miller

BRONX. A police officer has been charged with first-degree manslaughter in the shooting of an unarmed man after a car accident, according to an indictment unsealed yesterday.

Officer Raphael Lora, 37, pleaded not guilty in Bronx state Supreme court and was released on $50,000 bail. Authorities have said Lora, who was off-duty at the time, fired five rounds while trying to stop Fermin Arzu from leaving the scene of an accident on May 18. Arzu, a 41-year-old immigrant from Honduras, died at the scene.

Stuart London, Lora’s attorney, said his client fired in self-defense because he thought he would be dragged under the car during a struggle with Arzu, whose blood-alcohol level was higher than the legal driving limit.

“Clearly the loss of life is a tragedy and he is remorseful, but he was really attempting to render aid,” London told Metro yesterday. “He is not apologetic because [Lora] knows he did nothing wrong. Ultimately, he is confident he will be exonerated.”

Witnesses told investigators that after the crash, the minivan backed up and drove about a block before Lora, who was on foot and out of uniform, caught up to it. He was standing at the driver’s open door when the minivan lurched forward, according to the Associated Press. Lora discharged his 9mm pistol five times, hitting Arzu once, police have said.

If convicted, Lora faces up to 25 years in prison.

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, called the indictment “unwarranted.”

“This off-duty officer took action to protect his community from an obviously dangerous drunk driver who had already crashed into two parked vehicles,” Lynch said in a statement. “We can only speculate about what might have happened if this out-of-control drunk driver was allowed to continue his trail of destruction.”

Meanwhile, Sanford Rubenstein, an attorney representing Arzu’s family, said the man’s relatives were pleased with yesterday’s indictment.

“The family is still overwhelmed with sadness over the loss,” Rubenstein told Metro. But they feel this is the first step toward justice.”