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Proposed legislation would ensure fallen N.Y. officer’s family receives death benefits after initial denial

Officer Anthony Varvaro’s family was reportedly denied death benefits after he was killed in a car crash; if passed, the new legislation will extend death benefits to the families of officers killed on the way to work


Photo/Port Authority Police Department

By Paul Liotta
Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Two local elected officials are pushing for change after the state denied Port Authority Police (PAPD) Officer Anthony Varvaro’s family an accidental death benefit.

State Sen. Jessica Scarcella-Spanton (D-North Shore/ Southern Brooklyn ) and Assemblyman Charles Fall (D-North Shore/ Brooklyn /Lower Manhattan) introduced legislation to permit an accidental death benefit to the family of the officer killed Sept. 11, 2022 on his way to work from his New Jersey home in a head-on collision with a wrong-way driver on the New Jersey Turnpike.

The state denied the family’s initial claim based on stipulations in the New York State Retirement and Social Security Law, but the decision is currently under review, according to a spokesperson for Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

Scarcella-Spanton’s and Fall’s legislation would end the need for that review, but Fall said Thursday that he wished their bill wasn’t necessary.

"[We’re] trying to correct a wrong with a right by passing this legislation, so his family can get the necessary benefits,” Fall said. “It’s really sad that we’re even having this conversation...but unfortunately, the [way] government works, we have to get creative sometimes.”

In New York, the accidental death benefit is a lifetime pension paid to a surviving spouse or dependent parent of state police and fire employees killed in an on-the-job accident, according to the state comptroller’s office.

Fall’s and Scarcella-Spanton’s legislation would provide Varvaro’s beneficiaries the typical death benefit equal to three times his prior 12 month salary.

The assemblyman said to his understanding, the state denied the family’s claim because Varvaro was not technically on duty, a requirement to receive the death benefit, but their legislation points out that most state and local employees are compensated for their travel to work.

DiNapoli’s office did not confirm the exact reason the state denied the initial claim, because of the ongoing administrative review. Scarcella-Spanton also introduced legislation that would make accidental benefits available to the families of all eligible employees killed on their way to work.

In a statement, the family thanked the legislators for their support.

“The Varvaro family greatly appreciates the support of Senator Scarcella-Spanton, and all who have stepped up to be there for our family and to help carry Anthony’s legacy,” the family said.

Varvaro, a 37-year-old father of four and 6-year pitcher in Major League Baseball, was on his way to his post near the World Trade Center for the annual ceremony marking the 21st anniversary of 9/11 attacks when he was fatally struck by 30-year-old Henry Plazas of Bridgewater, N.J., at around 4:25 a.m.

The Port Authority posthumously honored Varvaro, a six-year veteran of the police force and graduate of Curtis High School, with the Robert F. Wagner Distinguished Public Service Medal, which was presented to his widow, Kerry.

The Port Authority also suspended two PAPD detectives in February 2023 after they allegedly spotted and ignored the erratic driver shortly before the fatal crash.


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