NEW YORK (AP) — A man accused of stealing an ambulance and then driving it over a fire department medic, crushing her to death, told reporters he wasn’t guilty as he was escorted out of a police station Friday surrounded by angry uniformed emergency medical technicians, who hurled insults.
“I’m innocent. I didn’t do nothing,” said Jose Gonzalez, 25, who was set to be arraigned in a Bronx courtroom later Friday on charges including murder.
In a twist, authorities said he lived on the same block as the Fire Department Emergency Medical Services technician he is accused of killing, Yadira Arroyo.
Police said Gonzalez, who has 31 prior arrests, was high on drugs when he hopped on the back of Arroyo’s ambulance as it drove through the Bronx on Thursday evening on its way to a routine medical call. He has a history of violent and erratic behavior with police, they said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Arroyo, who was 44 and had five children, was “bravely doing her job” when she and a partner pulled over after being alerted that someone was on the back of the vehicle.
When they got out to check things out, Gonzalez ran around the ambulance, got in and threw the vehicle in reverse, authorities said. Arroyo was struck and became trapped beneath the wheels.
Gonzalez was captured moments later by a passing transit police officer and a civilian bystander after the ambulance hit several parked cars and got stuck on a snowbank, authorities said.
Video posted on Twitter by a bystander captured the horrific scene as it unfolded. It showed the ambulance speeding across an intersection with one of its doors open, its lights flashing and Arroyo’s body being dragged beneath the vehicle.
“We know our EMTs are brave. 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,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a news conference late Thursday.
He thanked the officer and bystander who apprehended Gonzalez, saying, “A lot of heroism was on display amidst a great tragedy.”
Gonzalez was also arrested on charges of grand larceny and driving while impaired by drugs. There was no immediate information on an attorney who could comment on his behalf. Gonzalez lived at a group home for about a month for chronically homeless single adults run by Volunteers of America Greater New York, which couldn’t comment, citing privacy laws.
The second EMT was treated at a Bronx hospital for minor injuries, police said.
The video posted on Twitter captured both the arrest of the driver and a scene of anguish as the second EMT kneeled, sobbing, over the body of her fallen partner. Arroyo had been with the Fire Department of New York for 14 years, officials said.
Justin Lopez, 20, told the Daily News that he shot the video of the episode as his brother was driving.
“I was coming from the street, up to the red light, and I just saw the ambulance, the sirens and lights, and I told my brother, ‘Look, something’s happening,’ and then somebody just hopped in, and then he hit two cars and ran over the person,” he said. “I realized he was hijacking the car.”
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted late Thursday: “EMTs are heroes who help countless New Yorkers every day. Tonight’s tragedy in the Bronx is horrible. My deepest sympathies to the family.”