COLUMBUS CIRCLE — A suicidal man who threw a "hoax" bomb into an NYPD van held off officers for six hours in his SUV, telling police "I have a bomb strapped to me and I want to die," before he surrendered, officials said.
Sgt. Hameed Armani and Officer Peter Cybulski were sitting in their marked NYPD van at Duffy Square about 11:30 p.m. Wednesday when Hector Meneses, 52, drove by and tossed a device onto their dashboard, an NYPD spokesman said.
"The light went off, started blinking. I looked around and saw a lot of kids, a lot of young people, a lot of people out there in Times Square," said Armani, a 10-year NYPD veteran and father to a 12-year-old daughter.
Meneses fled the scene in his Chrysler Aspen and the police flipped their sirens on and headed east on 46th Street as Cybulski, a 3-year veteran, nervously cupped the device in his hands, officials said.
“He was yelling at me, ‘Boss, what are we doing?’ We’re driving. We’re driving. We said our prayers. I said, ‘If it happens, it happens, but I’m not going to stop here,'” Armani said
The pair got to Sixth Avenue and placed the device on the sidewalk for the NYPD bomb squad to investigate, officials said.
Investigation revealed the device to be an inert "hoax," containing a candle, cylindrical object, electrical component and a flashing LED wrapped in a white T-shirt, officials said.
Then, about 2:10 a.m., police spotted Meneses, a Colombia native who now lives in East Elmhurst, parked in his SUV in Columbus Circle, police said.
Meneses, wearing a red helmet and a denim vest, rolled up his window and reached for his glove compartment, but mostly refused to negotiate with police except to say, "I have a bomb strapped to me and I want to die," officials said.
Using a robot with audio and visual capabilities, police finally determined that there weren't any explosives in the SUV and moved to take Meneses into custody just before 8 a.m., officials said.
He underwent a psychological evaluation at Mount Sinai Roosevelt and was charged with reckless endangerment, making a false report, making a terroristic threat, placing a false bomb, criminal possession of a weapon, and resisting arrest, police said.
Police found 19 LED lights, a pot with a cap, wires and a remote control — components investigators believe he hoped to use to "simulate a pressure cooker" bomb in his SUV, officials said.
"Nothing in the vehicle or nothing that we know of right now comes anything close to an improvised explosive device," said the Chief of Detectives Manhattan South William Aubry.
Meneses, who doesn't have any criminal history with the NYPD, was described by neighbors as a quiet, churchgoing man who split up with his wife but was involved in the neighborhood, officials said.
His last job was as a cabbie and applied for a license with the Taxi and Limousine Commission in 2014, police said. TLC officials said he applied again in April, but wasn't licensed as of Thursday morning.
"Something must have happened to him, something must have disturbed him, something must have destabilized him because he does not act like that," said Meneses' neighbor, a woman named Piedad, who declined to give her last name.
Meneses had been married but had split with his wife, neighbors said.
"I was completely shocked, and I imagine it could be anybody else," she said. "Maybe somebody, anybody but him, I think," said Lucia Amaral, 75, who was a neighbor and was the witness for Meneses' wedding at Queens Borough Hall a decade ago.
NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton praised the efforts of Armani, Cybulski and all the police involved in the incident.
"The bravery and heroism displayed by them for many long hours this morning, I cannot extol enough. They are reflective of the best of this police department," Bratton said.