NYPD Officer Dies After Coney Island Arson, Police Say
BROOKLYN — A seven-year NYPD veteran and father of four died Wednesday morning from smoke inhalation he suffered from a fire set by a "bored" teen on the 13th floor of a Coney Island housing project, police said.
Officer Dennis Guerra, who lived in Far Rockaway with his wife and children, died at 6:50 a.m. in Montefiore Medical Center, where he was being treated for severe smoke inhalation he suffered in the Sunday afternoon blaze inside 2007 Surf Ave., according to the NYPD.
Guerra's death, the first police fatality in the line of duty since Officer Peter Figoski was shot in the head during a drug bust in 2011, was heralded as "the ultimate selfless act" by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.
"Though his loss is devastating to us, and especially to his family, we know Dennis will always live on in his countless acts of generosity in the lives that he protected, and in the city he helped make safer," Bratton said during a flag lowering ceremony at NYPD headquarters.
Guerra, who was assigned to Police Service Area 1, and another officer, Rosa Rodriguez, 36, raced up to the 13th floor of the building to investigate a mattress fire but were overwhelmed by thick smoke, NYPD officials said.
Rodriguez remains in critical condition with carbon monoxide poisoning at Cornell hospital's burn unit, police said Wednesday.
Mayor Bill de Blasio took a moment during an unrelated speaking engagement at the National Action Network Wednesday morning to address Guerra's death.
"We lost a good man this morning, a very brave police officer," the mayor said.
"Even if a lot of us can’t see ourselves doing something of such bravery, we have to appreciate those who do it on our behalf," he added. "And Officer Guerra was exemplary. He went to try to save people in need, and he has now lost his life."
Marcell Dockery, 16, told police he was "bored" so he used a lighter to set fire to a mattress that was leaning against a hallway wall at the Coney Island Housing Development about 12:30 p.m. Sunday, according to court records and the New York Post.
Guerra and Rodriguez, who were assigned to the housing police area encompassing the building, were returning from taking a prisoner to a Brooklyn holding cell when tenants started calling 911, police said.
Before any other first responders arrived, the two officers raced inside and up an elevator to the fire floor, but were overcome by "acrid smoke quickly filling the hallway," Bratton said in a statement.
They were both unconscious when firefighters arrived, according to the NYPD.
The officers did not breach any protocol in the way they responded to the high-rise fire, Bratton told CBS.
"We have determined the department has not, does not have, and has not had any policies specific to this issue of going into buildings and utilization of elevators," he said.
Dockery was charged with assault, arson and reckless endangerment, according to court records. He is due back in court on April 11.
He is also suspected of mugging a person in the lobby of 2007 Surf Ave. — the same building where the fire occurred — about 11 p.m. on March 7.
"If you don't give me everything, you are going to get cut," Dockery said, while holding a razor blade, according to court records. He then emptied the person's purse and took $10, records show.
Dockery's lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Guerra shared a home with his family in Bayswater, a stone's throw from the waters of Mott Basin.
"He's a very nice person. That's a beautiful guy," said the family's landscaper, Eber Urias, 33.
"Beautiful, perfect family," Urias added.
Guerra is survived by his wife, Cathy, and his children, Kathleen, 20, Jonathan, 17, Alyssa, 14, and Zachary, 7, police said.
"He wasn't just an officer, he was a part of the community. He was a really good man," said neighbor Dovied Van der Veld, a 49-year-old rabbi.
"The entire Rockaway community mourns a neighbor, friend and hero. We will keep his wife and children in our thoughts and prayers," said Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, who represents Guerra's district.
With reporting by Ben Fractenberg