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NYPD commissioner: Officer died saving others

Published: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 12:16 p.m. CDT

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NEW YORK — A police officer who was critically injured last weekend while responding to a mattress fire in a Brooklyn apartment building succumbed to his injuries Wednesday, Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said, noting that the father of four "died trying to save others."

Dennis Guerra, 38, who had more than seven years with the New York Police Department and was the son of a police detective, was pronounced dead at a hospital in the Bronx, Bratton said. His partner, Rosa Rodriguez, who also responded to the fire Sunday in the Coney Island public housing building, remains hospitalized in critical but stable condition, Bratton said.

As tearful members of Rodriguez's family looked on, Bratton addressed hundreds of uniformed and plain-clothed officers in the plaza of police headquarters Wednesday afternoon. He said Guerra's death should remind everyone how quickly a routine call can become deadly for an officer.

"Police Officer Guerra gave his life trying to save others," he said. "And that is the ultimate selfless act."

After an officer played Taps on a trumpet, an American, a New York City and a Police Department flag were lowered and a police helicopter flew overhead. Officers from Guerra's public housing police unit hugged each another and locked arms.

Police have arrested a 16-year-old boy they allege started the fire out of boredom. Marcell Dockery was arraigned Monday on charges of assault, arson and reckless endangerment and held without bail. Attorney information for him wasn't available.

It wasn't immediately clear if prosecutors would upgrade the charges against Dockery. A spokeswoman for the Brooklyn district attorney's office declined to comment.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking at an unrelated event Wednesday morning, led a moment of silence for the fallen officer.

"We've lost a good man this morning," de Blasio said. "We had a very brave police officer Dennis Guerra who did something that most of us wouldn't understand how to do.

"He went towards those in danger no matter the risk to him. It's something that our police officers do every day, it's something our first responders do every day, it's something we need to appreciate every day."

Guerra and Rodriguez, responding to a 911 call of a suspicious fire in the hallway, took an elevator up to the 13th floor of the building when they were immediately exposed to a wave of smoke, suffering carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation, Bratton said.

Firefighters found the officers in the pitch black and pulled both back into the elevator and brought them downstairs where they were treated by EMS personnel, Bratton said.

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said outside police headquarters that Dockery should be charged with murder.

"A kid like that, who is bored, needs to realize every action there's a reaction and that reaction sometimes is life or death," he said. "In this case, it was death. ... It's not a free ride, he should pay. He murdered a New York City police officer and we won't forget that."

Guerra's death was the first of an NYPD officer in the line of duty since 2011, when an officer was shot and killed responding to a robbery in Brooklyn, police said.

He leaves behind a wife, Cathy, and children, Kathleen, 20; Jonathan, 17; Alyssa, 14; and Zachary, 7, Bratton said.

___

Associated Press writers Kiley Armstrong and Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.

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