Off-duty NYPD cop shot twice, still nabs suspect
Officer Nelson Vergara served two tours of duty in Iraq as a Marine and became a one-man army when he was attacked in the Bronx
Larry Celona, Reuven Fenton and Bob Fredericks
The New York Post
NEW YORK — An NYPD cop who served two tours of duty in Iraq as a Marine became a one-man army yesterday.
Officer Nelson Vergara was attacked by a bottle-hurling punk, then was shot twice by another thug — but still managed to wound the suspected gunman and cuff the alleged bottle thrower.
Vergara — a married father of girls ages 4 and 8 — had parked his car and was walking to his Bronx apartment at about 4:45 a.m. when a gang of punks began taunting him.
One of the goons — part of a rowdy crowd that was drinking and shooting off fireworks — threw a beer bottle at him as he walked along Phelan Place near West Tremont Avenue on the other side of the street.
"The glass bottle shattered when it hit the ground. Fragments from the bottle struck the officer," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.
Vergara, 36, who was in civilian clothes, started running across the street.
Suddenly, a green Honda rolled up and a gunman, identified as José Baez, 21, ran out and shot Adonis Almonte, 17 — the teen who allegedly had thrown the bottle.
As Almonte lay on the ground bleeding, Baez stood over him and prepared to fire another shot, a law- enforcement source said.
That's when Vergara reached the sidewalk and identified himself as a cop.
Baez allegedly turned the gun on the officer and shot him twice. The officer returned fire, hitting Baez once.
The officer — who had gotten off work at 2 a.m. after finishing an anti-terror training session and catching up with buddies at the precinct house — fired a total of 12 bullets.
One of them hit Baez, who police said had fired at least eight times.
Despite gunshot wounds to the left shoulder and right shin, Vergara — who was a sergeant in the Marines — managed to handcuff and arrest Almonte.
A woman and two men who had been in the Honda were taken in for questioning.
Baez and Almonte had had a beef earlier in the evening, and Baez returned for revenge and allegedly fired into the crowd, according to the source.
"If the cop's not there, he definitely would have killed Almonte and possibly more people because he was shooting wildly," another source said.
Vergara "definitely saved one life and possibly more. He's definitely a hero."
A relative of Almonte — who was taken to St. Barnabas Hospital — quoted the teen as saying, "I'm so grateful that the cop was there, because if he hadn't been there, I would have been dead."
Mayor Bloomberg, who with Commissioner Kelly visited Vergara at St. Barnabas, lavished praise on the wounded cop.
"We saw eternal vigilance and action this morning when an off-duty officer acted to clean up crime in his community as he was fired upon for his efforts," the mayor said.
Kelly said he did not know what the rivals were fighting about.
"The vehicle came onto the scene, the individual got out and started shooting at the individual who happened to throw the bottle. Officer Vergara was caught in the middle," Kelly said.
Vergara, a 12-year vet assigned to the 33rd Precinct in Washington Heights, was in stable condition, with his wife and daughters by his side.
"Don't worry about me. I'm going to be OK," Vergara told his wife and little girls at the hospital, according to sources.
Baez was taken by three pals to Bronx Lebanon Hospital, where he was arrested.
No gun was recovered, although shell casings littered the ground.
Bloomberg cited the shooting as another reason for stricter federal gun-control laws
"Our police officers deserve more than our prayers. They deserve our solemn commitment to take action against illegal guns. God may spare a life, but only Washington can solve this problem," the mayor said.
Neighbors, meanwhile, described Vergara as a quiet family man and exemplary cop.
"He's just an everyday person. He's a cool guy. That's a real cop right there. That's his training. That's what he's going to do. Some people would try to turn their back and run," said Keith Brown.
Neighbor Sandy Tamayo added, "As a cop, he's a top cop. As a guy, he's a 10. As a family man, another 10. He's a very impressive guy.
"He does everything well, always by the book — even if he's been shot."
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