WILLIAMSBURG — Grieving students and teachers gathered at a Brooklyn funeral home Thursday to mourn the loss of a local Spanish teacher who died when a cop who was allegedly talking on her cellphone hit him with a police van.
Felix Coss, 61, was run down by Officer Paula Medrano, as she made a left turn onto Hooper Street from Broadway, Saturday afternoon, as DNAinfo New York first reported. Both had the green light but the van did not yield to the middle school instructor.
The impact knocked Coss over and he hit his head on the pavement. He was transported to Bellevue Hospital, where he was declared dead, police said.
Coss had been a Spanish teacher in Williamsburg for more than 30 years. He taught at Transfiguration Catholic school from 1980 to 1999 and then at Beginning with Children charter school from 2000 until his death.
“I could always count on Felix,” said Sonia Gulardo, the former principal who hired Coss at the charter school. “He would fill in a class or help out in the cafeteria. He was the one that I could always depend on."
Around the school, he was known for his signature loud laugh and his generosity, coworkers and students said. Coss would buy students prom dresses if they couldn’t afford them. He was also a perfect gentleman, always opening doors, walking teachers to their cars whenever it was dark outside, and baking birthday cakes for staff members.
Coworkers were shocked to learn how he died because Coss always followed the rules, especially when walking in the street. One of the few times he raised his voice was to yell at teachers who jaywalked or tried to cross on the red, Gulardo said.
“He was always very careful,” she said.
Although Coss lived alone and his family live in Puerto Rico, he made a big family of the school community. He was the school’s only Spanish teacher and most of the kids took his class at one point or another.
“If we got in trouble he would say, ‘I’m not just going to tell your mom, I’m going to tell your aunt too,’” another student said outside the wake.
Other students said he taught them their first words in Spanish and always encouraged them to embrace their culture, no matter what it was. If any of them needed extra time to work on their assignments, Coss often would stay late to help.
Last year, Coss had to take some time off from teaching because of medical problems. Students would ask other teachers about his condition. Whenever he visited they would be very excited to see him, Margie Pardo, the school’s guidance counselor, said.
Over the last few months, however, his health was improving.
"During our last conversation he was thinking of coming back or going to early retirement,” said Pardo, who spoke to him at school less than a week before his fatal accident. “He looked so healthy. He shouldn't have died that way."
A livery car driver, who saw the accident from across the street but would not give his name for fear of the police, said he saw the officer talking on her phone at the time of the accident.
“She had her phone up to her ear,” said the man who would only give his name as Elvis. “She didn’t yield. She didn’t see him until she hit him.”
Elvis said he saw Medrano get out of the car with a worried expression and start apologizing.
Investigators asked for her phone immediately after the accident but Medrano refused to hand it over, telling them that they would have to subpoena her for the records, police sources said.
The NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau is investigating the incident, a police spokesman said Thursday.