Richard Lopez was tough as nails, according to his NYPD colleagues — something, they say, was exemplified in the Bronx resident’s final years during his battle with 9/11-related cancer.
On Friday Oct. 13, colleagues gathered at the corner of Randall Avenue and Cross Bronx Expressway to rename it “Richard Lopez Way” after the police veteran nearly five years after his death.. While the ceremony was an emotional one for Lopez’s friends and family, it was especially poignant for fellow cop Ramon Santos who helped pave the way for the moment.
According to Santos, he and Lopez shared a unique bond that took them from mere work colleagues at Bronx’s Police Service Area 8 to brothers.
“When I first walked into this place [Police Service Area 8] in 2005, he was the very first person I met. He was in the gym working out and I went in to introduce myself to him. And from there on, we clicked right away. We were like brothers from there on,” Santos told amNewYork Metro.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Center, Lopez had the harrowing duty of being posted in Staten Island where he was tasked with sifting through debris, personal belongings, and human remains.
“They had a conveyor belt where they had all this stuff and he remembers seeing things like body parts and fingers and legs, you know, like different body parts,” Santos said of Lopez. “He just told me how he spent countless days — weeks down there and didn’t get to see his family.”
In 2013, Lopez was diagnosed with cancer related to 9/11, beginning a five-year battle. During this time, Santos created and sold special challenge coins and t-shirts to help raise funds for his friend.
This fundraiser was even picked up by the cast of Blue Bloods and championed by the likes of actor Donnie Wahlberg who took photographs holding the shirt.
As time and cancer wore on, Lopez — a hulking man who once weighed 290 pounds — dwindled to a mere 170 pounds, a transformation that made him nearly unrecognizable to many of his friends.
Although he physically shrunk, Lopez’s spirit endured. As his friend battled the illness, Santos weathered his own struggles caring for his mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Despite battling cancer, Lopez still offered his shoulder to lean on when Santos needed it most.
Toward the end of Lopez’s battle in 2018, Santos told amNewYork Metro that he and his wife visited Lopez in Puerto Rico, where they spent time laughing and reminiscing. That led to one moment that has stuck with Santos ever since and spurred on the effort to have the street renamed.
“We sat in front of his patio in the house, and this is the first time that I actually saw him cry. We sat there and he just started crying, and he just looked at me and hugged me and said he said: ‘Ray, I don’t want to die,’ and that one brought me to tears,” Santos remembered. “When he dropped us off at the airport I just looked back and I saw him there, he kind of just waved at me really slowly. He lifted up his right arm and gave me a wave, like this is the last time you will see me alive.”
Sadly, Lopez died one month later.
Still, his love for Santos was so strong that according to Lopez’s family he spent his last few moments in the back of the ambulance scrolling through Facebook hitting the like button on photos Santos posted of his son’s graduation. He even left his Harley Davidson motorcycle to Santos.
While Lopez’s fight was over, a new one began for Santos.
Looking to ensure that the memory of Lopez would not die, Santos began a five-year battle of his own to have the street outside of Police Service Area 8 renamed in his beloved friend’s honor. Following months and years of meetings, pushing, and prodding, Police Officer Richard Lopez was immortalized with the street renaming.
With that done Santos said he felt like he could finally rest knowing that he was able to both pay his friend back for all that he had done for him as well as ensure his legacy lives on for the next generation of cops.
“We always have to teach these young cops to never forget the brothers and sisters who are no longer with us. Some of the guys retire and enjoy their retirement but there are those who never make it to their retirement,” Santos said. “If it was up to me, honestly, I would name every street corner after these guys but to me, it was just personal because again, he was like a brother to me.”