BELLEROSE TERRACE, N.Y. (AP) — A suburban New York City police officer killed after being shot in what started out as a traffic stop was an "exemplary officer," a county official said Wednesday, as he acknowledged the death of the civilian had been overshadowed by the outpouring of grief for the officer.
Nassau County Officer Arthur Lopez was killed Tuesday after getting shot in what had started out as a traffic stop near the Belmont Park racetrack. Ex-convict Darrell Fuller, 33, was arrested on charges of shooting him as well as another driver, 52-year-old Queens resident Raymond Facey, in a subsequent carjacking.
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano called Lopez, an 8-year veteran on the force, "an exemplary officer, a real heroic officer."
"His file is full of commendations," Mangano said on Fox 5 News Wednesday morning.
Lopez, 29, was on patrol Tuesday in Bellerose Terrace, a community at the border of New York City's Queens borough and Nassau County. The officer and his partner spotted a damaged silver Honda that was "running on rims," suspecting it was wanted for leaving the scene of a hit-and-run accident, authorities said.
The officers followed the car, and it pulled over. There was "a brief exchange of words" between Lopez and the driver before the driver left the vehicle and fired one round into Lopez's chest, police Chief Steven Skrynecki said, adding that the officer wasn't wearing a bulletproof vest.
Mangano said Nassau does not have a mandatory bullet-proof vest policy, saying "it's up to each police officer."
"The shrieks of his mother will haunt me and all those who were present forever," said Mangano, who visited the family after the shootings. "A mother doesn't want to live when she loses a son."
He said he had not yet visited Facey's family. "I know it's been overshadowed" by Lopez's murder but "we're equally shocked and dismayed that such an act would take place in New York, on Long Island. It's terrible."
The second officer administered first aid to Lopez, officials said, and was later hospitalized for trauma.
The shooter got back into his car and drove away, and then accosted Facey, authorities said. He shot the Queens man in the head, dragged him out of his car and left him dead on the roadway as he drove away, they said. The car later was found abandoned in a residential neighborhood in Queens.
The slayings touched off a search for Fuller that included heavily armed New York Police Department officers going door-to-door in Queens. Authorities also closed the Cross Island Parkway for several hours, causing traffic delays.
A 911 caller reported hearing gunfire in Queens amid the massive manhunt for Fuller. Responding officers found him in a vehicle — not the one carjacked — with what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Fuller was hospitalized in police custody for treatment of an undisclosed wound. It was unclear if he had a lawyer.
Fuller had served four years in prison after pleading guilty to attempted murder in 2005, authorities said. He was jailed again in 2010 after violating his parole, but was released in May 2011.
"We're endeavoring to find out what triggered this entire series of events," Skrynecki said while announcing the arrest late Tuesday.
Before the shootings, Fuller left a hospital and had gotten in a car accident, the chief added, but wouldn't elaborate.
"It's absolutely shocking that a man who committed attempted murder only did 5 years, got back on the streets, arrested again and out of jail again," said Mangano. "Whoever let him out on a parole, it's ridiculous ... outrageous."
A man who witnessed the officer's shooting as he was stopped at a gas station along the highway said it looked like a routine traffic stop.
"The officer's walking up to the car. They just pulled out (a gun) and shot," said Paul Walcott, a music producer from the Queens neighborhood of Bayside. "He went right down. He got hit point blank. He went straight down."
The car then sped off, heading south on the Cross Island Parkway, a north-south highway along the border of Queens and Nassau County.
"In broad daylight, this time of day, it was incredible to see something like that," Walcott said.
The shooting unfolded within blocks of Belmont Park, the racetrack where the Belmont Stakes is held.
Hays reported from New York.