NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A 29-year-old off-duty Mount Vernon police officer who was engaged to be married was killed early Thursday morning when he drove his car the wrong way on Interstate 95 and crashed head-on into a tractor-trailer and burst into flames, police said.
The crash occurred at around 2:35 a.m. near exit 11 on the northbound lanes of the New England Thruway.
Mount Vernon Police Commissioner Carl Bell said Reginald Velez Jr. left the Pelham Bay Diner on East Gun Hill Road in the Bronx. He was driving his 2002 white Lexus sedan and somehow got on the highway the wrong way and ran head-on into an 18-wheeler – a fatal mistake on a road Velez must have known well, since he lived and worked within a few miles of the crash site.
“We don’t know a lot but he was traveling the wrong direction. NYPD is investigating the specific details. We’re just dealing with the loss of a great officer. He’s been here two years and had a promising career – good officer in a great squad,” said Bell.
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“I was driving north on 95,” said the driver of the tractor-trailer. “All of the sudden this car came up the ramp going south. We have an impact. That’s all I can do. There was nothing I could do to stop him.”
Bell said the driver was burned beyond recognition, so the identification of Velez is based on the car’s license plate number and a replica gold police shield.
The driver of the tractor-trailer was not injured. Velez was killed instantly as his car exploded into flames and landed right near this guardrail.
“The greatest son I could ever want in my life, he’s going to be missed by everyone,” Velez’ father told CBS 2′s Tony Aiello.
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“On behalf of the men and women of the Mount Vernon Police Department, we offer our deepest sympathy and condolences to the Velez family,” Bell said. “Officer Velez was a young and promising officer and will be sorely missed by his extended family at the Mount Vernon Police Department.”
Workers at the Pelham Bay Diner say Velez was there with two women just minutes before the crash. Velez left around 2:30 a.m. Shortly after, the two women placed their order. But before the food could even go on to the grill, the women got the call that Velez had just been killed a few feet away. They left the restaurant immediately.
“We’re just dealing with the loss of a great officer. He’s been here two years and had a promising career. A good officer in a great squad,” Bell said. ”His squad this year leads the department in arrests and he was part of that group.”
Mount Vernon internal affairs investigators are looking into the crash, which is being investigated the the 45th Precinct in the Bronx.
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