What to Know
- Yadira Arroyo, a 44-year-old mother of 5, was run over and killed by her own ambulance, hijacked by a man riding the back bumper, cops say
- Arroyo was being honored by colleagues and the FDNY at her stationhouse in the Bronx Friday
- Coincidentally, she lived on the same block as the man accused of mowing her down
Yadira Arroyo died a hero when she tried to stop a thief who hopped into her ambulance as the veteran EMT was on her way to a call Thursday, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro says.
The 44-year-old mother of five, who worked for 14 years at FDNY EMS station no. 26 in the Bronx, was mowed down by her own hijacked ambulance while she and her partner were on their way to a job.
Fire officials draped black and purple bunting over Arroyo's stationhouse in a somber ceremony as uniformed officers saluted and bagpipers played "Amazing Grace."
"We're mourning a hero," Nigro said. "We will, with her family, celebrate her life, we will mourn her death, we will stand strong together as this department has done for 152 years."
Arroyo, known affectionately as Yadi, was so uniquely selfless and compassionate that she was the matriarch of her EMS station, her supervisor said.
"She was not only a mother to five, she was a mother to the 100-plus people who worked here," said Lt. George Lampon, choking back tears.
"She wouldn't eat unless her partners ate. She wouldn't start her tour without asking somebody how they were doing," Louis Montalvo, a close friend and fellow EMT, told reporters at the suspect's arraignment Friday, where other colleagues had gathered. "She didn't have malice in her heart."
"Knowing she was out there gave us peace and understanding that the right thing was going to be done every single time," said station captain Joseph Jefferson. "The care and compassion she displayed every single time she touched a patient -- she touched a person, it was her family."
"That was her nature. I've served the department for 28 years, and rarely do you find a member who is so dedicated, so selfless," he said.
Arroyo was known for her contagious laugh, "this joy that no matter what she was going through, she set aside to do this job that was so noble," he added. "Her love, her laughter, her smile cannot be replaced. It will always be in our hearts. We will lift that up every day."
Arroyo was a single mother when she decided to become an EMT at the encouragement of her own mother, according to her brother Joel Rosado, also an EMT.
"She was my best friend," said the devastated Rosado, who says he's focused on pulling the family together.
"She was a good mom. She always took her kids out on vacations. She always tried really hard to be there for them," he told News 4.
Arroyo's sister-in-law Monica Salazar told the New York Post that Arroyo's children were able to say goodbye. The eldest is 24 and the youngest is 7 and lives in Connecticut with his dad. She says the children were devastated. But Arroyo's oldest son, Jose, said he would be a rock for them.
Another of Arroyo's children, Edgar Montes, was too distraught to speak much about his mother's death Friday morning. He told News 4 he lived with his mother and his uncle in Arroyo's apartment on Creston Avenue.
Madelyne Martinez recalled how kind and empathetic Arroyo was when she wound up in the back of her ambulance last week. She'd called 911 and was doubled over in pain when Arroyo arrived.
"She was telling me in the ambulance, 'Calm down, you're going to be OK. I have kids like you have kids,'" Martinez told News 4. "I have six, and she has five. That broke my heart right there."
"She was a really good person," she said.
In her Bronx neighborhood of Soundview, almost everyone had a story about Yadi. Joseph Brown said even though he didn't know her well, every time he couldn't afford a meal, she gave him money from her own pocket.
"She was a lifesaver. She was that kind of person that would give from her heart," he said.
Barber Valdimir Sencion said the two used to talk about their kids.
"It gives me pain that she died this way," he said. "We don't know how many lives she saved. And for her to die the way she did."
In an odd twist, Arroyo and the man accused of killing her lived on the same block, according to police. Jose Gonzalez, 25, lived at a building run by Volunteers of America that houses homeless people or those who are considered "at risk." The organization didn't immediately respond to an email request for comment early Friday.
Gonzalez professed his innocence as he was led out of the 43rd Precinct stationhouse early Friday morning after being arrested on murder and other charges.
"I'm innocent, I didn't do nothing," Gonzalez told reporters.
His attorney acknowleged the tragedy but says her client is "severely mentally ill."
"Whatever happened in this case was not intentional," she said.
Law enforcement sources say it's Gonzalez's 32nd arrest in 13 years; charges range from assault to criminal trespassing, robbery and public lewdness.
Arroyo and her partner were on their way to a call in the Bronx Thursday evening when they were alerted to someone hanging onto the back bumper of the ambulance, authorities said. Arroyo got out to check, and Gonzalez hopped into the idling vehicle and took off.
The EMTs tried to stop him, and Gonzalez put the ambulance in reverse; Arroyo fell to the ground and he ran over her, police said. He then went forward, dragging her into the middle of the intersection at White Plains Road and Watson Avenue.
"Yadi was on her way to a call. Someone who served the people of the Bronx for 14 years. You can imagine how that struck her, that he was interfering with her job," said Nigor. "She took it as a personal affront."
A passing MTA police officer witnessed the crash and immediately pulled over and subdued the suspect with the help of bystanders, authorities said.
Arroyo’s partner suffered minor injuries while struggling with the suspect, according to police. In the video posted to Twitter, she can be heard screaming in anguish as she stands over Arroyo, who is lying motionless in the street.
That partner is "broken apart," a union spokesman says. "She can't event speak. This is something she's gonna carry around for the rest of her life."
Funeral arrangements had yet to be scheduled as of Friday morning.
None of the people in the occupied vehicles hit by the stolen ambulance were hurt, authorities said.