An off-duty Mount Vernon police officer was killed in a fiery wrong-way crash in the Bronx early Thursday, police said.
The officer, identified as 29-year-old Reginald Velez, was behind the wheel of the wrong-way Lexus sedan that collided head-on with a tractor-trailer on I-95, officials said.
The impact caused the sedan to burst into flames. Velez was pronounced dead at the scene.
Mount Vernon Police Commissioner Carl Bell described Velez as a respectful cop who was always smiling and never had a bad word for anybody.
"What we're dealing with now is our loss," he said.
Bell said Velez was single, but he believed he was getting engaged. The officer lived in the Bronx and was with friends, possibly at a local diner, before he got into his car and drove the wrong way on the Thruway, Bell said.
Asked about whether Velez had been drinking before he got behind the wheel, Bell said NYPD investigators were handling the case.
Police and witnesses tell NBC New York the officer's car was going the wrong way on I-95 in the northbound lanes near Exit 11, which is the exit for Co-op City Boulevard, when it struck the tractor-trailer.
The truck driver was not hurt. He says he managed to pull his truck over to the shoulder and get out, but the other vehicle was eviscerated in the crash.
"There was no way I could help him," the truck driver said at the scene.
Bell says Velez worked in retail before becoming a police officer. He joined the force in January 2010 because he "wanted to help" and had a promising career, the commissioner added.
Velez worked as a patrolman. His squad leads the division in arrests.
Mount Vernon Mayor Ernest Davis says this is "a very traumatic time."
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