THE BRONX — A Bronx bodega worker was shot and killed when he barrelled into a cop while fleeing armed robbers holding up his store, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
The officer's weapon apparently discharged accidentally when Reynaldo Cuevas, 20, sprinted into him as he fled Aneurys Deli Grocery, at 1299 Franklin Ave.
Cuevas had been working with his uncle when masked robbers burst in as the store was closing at 2 a.m. Friday, police said. The robbers ordered Cuevas and night manager Felix Mora to lie down on the floor.
As the bandits, one of which pistol-whipped the uncle, began stuffing a backpack with cash, cigarettes and lottery tickets, a passerby noticed and called 911.
When cops arrived, the robbers inside panicked.
"Policía! Policía! Policía!" one of them screamed, according to Kelly.
As two of the robbers bolted to the back of the bodega, Cuevas ran out of the store, just a few feet behind his uncle, Kelly said.
A police officer outside the bodega drew his weapon as the uncle ran out with his hands in the air, said Kelly who showed surveillance video apparently backing up what he said.
"The first guy ran out with his hands on his head," said Jesse Rodriguez, 23, a neighborhood resident, of one of the victims.
But when Cuevas dashed out of the store, he crashed into the cop — a seven-year veteran who has never before fired his weapon — causing an accidental discharge, Kelly said.
"He ran full speed into the officer, and the two became entangled," Kelly said.
"[Cuevas] ran straight into the officer. The events transpired in a matter of seconds."
Cuevas was shot in the left shoulder, Kelly said.
"He was bleeding all over from the top of the chest," said witness Alfredo Lambert, 27. "He was face down."
Witnesses quickly told cops that it seemed they shot the wrong man.
"People were screaming, 'He works there! He's an employee!" Rodriguez added. "He was innocent."
Antione Davis, who saw the shooting, said Cuevas looked scared when he fled the store. "He was running out looking like a victim," Davis said. "He didn’t look like a robber.”
Cuevas was taken to St. Barnabas Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Kelly showed the dramatic surveillance video of the shooting at a news conference at One Police Plaza. As Cuevas' uncle is running from the store, the footage shows Cuevas running into the cop, who had his service weapon in his right hand.
"We want to extend out deepest condolences for their loss," Kelly said in a message to the Cuevas' family.
But an uncle of Cuevas', who owns the bodega but was not present at the time of the robbery, said the cops should have responded to the robbery-in-progress more responsibly.
"The police killed him," said Alcibiades Cuevas, 52.
"They thought he was a thief," the uncle said in Spanish outside the store Friday afternoon. "They killed him like a dog."
Locals, too, criticized the shooting.
"Why couldn't they wait? They shot him right away," said Prince Alarsah, 32, who lives in the area. "They didn't even know who he was."
Kelly said detectives investigating the shooting have not spoken to the officer who shot Cuevas. He declined to name the officer, who he said had been assigned to administrative duties.
Three suspects were arrested, Kelly said.
One of the suspects, Christopher Dorsey, 17, ran out shortly after the shooting and surrendered, Kelly said.
Ernesto Delgado, 28, remained holed up in the store for four hours before giving up. And the alleged gunman, Orlando Ramos, 32, pretended to be a victim by tying himself to a pole, Kelly added.
All three suspects were charged with felony murder, robbery, criminal use of a firearm and criminal possession of a weapon.
Beverly Ortiz, the mother of suspect Christopher Dorsey, claimed her son, a high school senior, was coaxed into the crime by older, trouble-prone kids in the neighborhood. "He's a good kid," Ortiz said. "But he had no business being who he was with. He went to school, everything. He's a good boy."
Cops recovered a .32-caliber unloaded handgun secreted in birdseed, along with a backpack, which contained $718, Newport cigarettes and lottery tickets, Kelly said.
The shooting marks the second time in as many weeks that gunfire by police officers struck unarmed members of the public.
On August 24, nine victims were shot or grazed by bullets fired by cops after an office manager was gunned down by a disgruntled former co-worker at the Empire State Building.
In his weekly radio address, Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended shootings by police officers. The mayor did not specifically mention Friday's bodega shooting, however.
"If you take a look at the number of times New York City police officers pull and use their gun, compared to any other city per capita, you have to have a separate chart it's so low," Bloomberg said. "It is so unbelievable how well-managed and well-disciplined."
"Do the cops do it right every time? No," the mayor continued. "But, come on. To blame the cops for stopping somebody who's just killed one person on the streets of the city, and for all we know's going to kill someone else, or to defend their own lives? That's just a ridiculous thing."
A marked police vehicle from the 42nd Precinct raced to the scene crashed into a Range Rover at East 163rd Street and Third Avenue, Kelly said. The officer, whose identity was not released, broke his femur and nose, and was in surgery.
The civilians in the Rover were not seriously hurt.
The second youngest child of four, Cuevas had a 3-year-old daughter in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, friends said.
"He loved his daughter," said friend Henry Martinez, 25. "He supported her, would send her clothes."
Rodriguez said he spoke to Cuevas just four hours before the shooting.
"We were just talking about life, music, sports, baseball," he said. "He was a Yankees fan."
Cuevas told friends he thought about joining the military and improving his life.
"He said he wanted to join the Army," said Maricela Rodriguez, 41, a close family friend. "He was thinking of going there because his sister went there. He wanted a better life for himself."
Lambert remembered Cuevas as a hard worker who valued the bodega's customers.
"He treated everyone with respect," Lambert, a computer technician, said. "He was out little angel."
Cuevas' death is the second time in recent years the family has lost a loved one to gun violence. His father, Maleno Cuevas, was shot and killed in the Dominican Republic.
The father had owned a bodega just blocks away from the store where his son died.
"It's sad for the whole family," Martinez said.
Reporters Dan Rivoli, Natalie Musumeci, Patrick Wall, Jill Colvin and Joe Parziale contributed to this article.