Reporting Steve Sandberg
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – As New York’s finest saluted and honored a retired police officer in Chinatown, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was defending the city’s medical examiner Tuesday.
Officer George Wong, 48, died Thursday after a two-year battle with gastric cancer, which was initially determined to have been a result of exposure to 9/11 toxins.
1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg with Officer George Wong’s mother
On Monday, the medical examiner interrupted grieving loved ones at Wong’s wake to reclaim his body.
The family was allowed to carry out the wake but the body was taken by the medical examiner’s office at 10 p.m., forcing the family to postpone the next day’s viewing and delay his cremation and funeral.
Wong’s devastated mother said she is not forgiving the city for taking her son.
“Why did they take the body to test it again?” Mei Sin Wong said.
Bloomberg said the medical examiner must review all unnatural causes of death.
“They are as sensitive as you can be at what is obviously a very difficult, emotional time for families,” Bloomberg said.
“The medical examiner has to follow the law.”
When Wong died Thursday the doctor at Bellevue hospice put “9-11 toxic exposure” on the death certificate, reports CBS 2′s Tony Aiello. When the city saw that, it insisted on examining Wong’s remains. A Health Department spokesperson said the city maintains that there is no conclusive link between illnesses and exposure to ground zero toxins.
On Wednesday night CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis caught up with NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, who described the ME’s actions as unfortunate, but confirmed that the “9/11 toxic exposure” cause of death was the point of contention. Kelly said that was written likely as a way to secure Wong’s city pension.
“I can only say that Officer Wong was determined to have a line of duty injury by our pension board, by our medical board,” Kelly said.
Wong retired in 2006 after 20 years on the force. He had spent several weeks at ground zero doing security following the 9/11 attacks.
PBA president Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement, “This is an unforgivable case of bureaucratic overreaction where legal concerns outweighed compassion for the grieving family of a hero police officer.”
Lynch said it is time for the city to accept that people have died and will continue to die from illnesses related to exposure from the recovery and cleanup at ground zero.
“To pretend anything different is just foolish and hurtful to those left behind,” Lynch said.
Mourners said there had to be a better way to treat Wong’s family.
“At a time of crisis, a time of tragedy, they should not be having to make decisions after the fact because somebody mishandled the situation,” retired NYPD officer Christine Leung told Aiello.
Wong was remembered by his partner, Franklin Cosom, as a “sweet guy.”
“He would do anything in the world for you and he’s just going to be missed,” Cosom said. “To be interrupted with such bad news during the wake … it’s a shame.”
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