An off-duty NYPD officer returning to his Bronx home was wounded in a shootout that erupted when he confronted a group of men heckling him and another man drove up and opened fire, officials said.
Officer Nelson Vergara was hit twice but is expected to be OK, officials said. As he was walking to his building in University Heights around 5 a.m. Sunday, a group of men who had been drinking beer started taunting him, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.
One man in his 20s threw a beer bottle at the officer. Fragments of the glass bottle hit Vergara when it shattered on the ground, Kelly said.
Vergara walked across the street to the group of men and identified himself as a police officer. At the same time, a man in a green Honda pulled up to the scene. The man stepped out of his car, drew a weapon and began firing at one of the men in the group that had taunted the officer, Kelly said.
Vergara then drew his service weapon and returned fire at the shooter. The driver of the green Honda continued firing at the man in the group of hecklers and also at the officer, Kelly said.
Law enforcement sources tell NBC 4 New York that the gun used Sunday was used in a 2011 murder. Ballistics examination of the shell casings show the weapon was used in at least three shootings, including a Harlem murder a year ago.
Vergara was hit in the shoulder and leg during the exchange. After being hit, Vergara managed to apprehend the man who allegedly threw the bottle at him. That man had also been struck several times by the shooter.
The shooter was also struck once in the hip. He was taken to the hospital and later taken into police custody. The man accused of throwing the bottle was also hospitalized and put in police custody.
Vergara is listed in stable condition at St. Barnabas Hospital.
Police are questioning five other people in connection with the shootout. It wasn't immediately clear what provoked the man in the car to begin firing at the group of taunters. Vergara just happened on the scene, Kelly said.
Kelly said a total of 19 rounds appeared to have been fired during the exchange, eight of which did not come from a police issued weapon.
Vergara is a 12-year veteran of the NYPD who is assigned to the 33rd precinct in Washington Heights. He is also a Marine who has taken leave from the department to serve two tours in Iraq.
He and his wife have two children.
Bloomberg and Kelly visited the wounded officer and his wife at the hospital Sunday.
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