As millions across New York City celebrated St. Patrick’s Day on Friday, members of the FDNY gathered outside of EMS Station 26 on Boston Road in the Bronx for a bunting ceremony in honor of EMT Yadira Arroyo.
Arroyo, a mother of five and 14-year FDNY veteran, was killed Thursday in the Bronx when a man stole her ambulance and ran her over with it.
“Unfortunately today we can’t really celebrate,” FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said following the ceremony. “The purple and black hung on the station house shows that we are in mourning.”
The ceremony took place at the station house where Arroyo, 44, served and was marked with a salute and the somber playing of bagpipes. Nigro said the entire FDNY family was now mourning a hero.
“We will — with her family — celebrate her life and we will mourn her death,” the commissioner added.
Capt. Joseph Jefferson described Arroyo as a mother who “dedicated her life to serving the community,” adding that her laugh, love and smile will be greatly missed.
“Without a moment’s notice, she did what she thought was the right thing to do in the face of danger,” he said.
Arroyo had been driving the ambulance south on White Plains Road, near Watson Avenue, in Soundview, police said. At about 7:10 p.m., someone flagged her down to tell her a man was riding on the back bumper.
When Arroyo got out of the ambulance to investigate, the man, identified as 25-year-old Jose Gonzalez, got in the driver’s seat of the ambulance, police said.
Arroyo and her partner, a 30-year-old female who was a passenger in the ambulance, struggled with Gonzalez. Arroyo tried to pull him out of the ambulance, but he put the vehicle in reverse, knocking her to the ground, police said.
Gonzalez then drove over Arroyo, put the vehicle in drive and continued forward toward Watson Avenue, dragging Arroyo across the street, police said. He then turned left onto Watson Avenue and struck two parked cars before coming to a rest.
Arroyo was rushed to Jacobi Medical Center where she was pronounced dead, police said.
Gonzalez attempted to flee the scene, but an MTA police officer and other bystanders held him down, police said. He was taken into custody and later charged with murder, grand larceny and operating a motor vehicle impaired by drugs.
Gonzalez, of Fordham Heights, has 31 prior arrests, 21 of which are sealed, police said. Of the 10 that aren’t sealed, charges include assault, criminal mischief, criminal possession of marijuana and sale of marijuana, they said.
Gonzalez’s court-appointed attorney, Alice Fontier, said the case was an “absolute tragedy.”
“Mr. Gonzales is severely mentally ill. Whatever happened in this case was not intentional,” she said.
Police and fire officials initially said Arroyo’s partner was also hit during the crash, but they later said she remained in the vehicle during the ordeal. She was also taken to Jacobi Medical Center with injuries to her neck and shoulder.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said EMTs should not have to encounter this type of danger.
“They do crucial work — they save lives — but they should not ever have to be subjected to violence. And yet, that danger always exists for them,” he said at a news conference Thursday night.
“Sadly, we’re heading to a line-of-duty funeral,” said Robert Ungar, spokesman for the Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics and Fire Inspectors Local 2507. “It doesn’t happen often in the EMS division, but they do happen.”