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'He Was Superman to Us'; Suffolk County, N.Y. Cop Dies in Single-Car Crash

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July 27, 2004

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'He Was Superman to Us'; Suffolk County, N.Y. Cop Dies in Single-Car Crash

Officer Down: Edwin Hernandez - [Suffolk, New York]

By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher, New York Newsday

After helping close the Long Island Expressway for construction Monday night, Suffolk Police Officer Edwin Hernandez bid his sergeant and fellow officers goodnight, telling them to be careful.

He had been working the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift for Highway Patrol and had put in an hour of overtime. Shortly after midnight, he was heading west on the Northern State Parkway to drop off his 2003 Ford Crown Victoria patrol car on Route 110 in Huntington and pick up his own car, Commissioner Richard Dormer said. For some reason, Hernandez lost control of the patrol car and hit a guardrail, then a tree, near Deer Park Avenue in Dix Hills.

A passing motorist called 911. After rescue workers arrived, a police helicopter took Hernandez, 44, of Ridge, to Stony Brook University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at about 1 a.m., Dormer said.

Last night, as Hernandez prepared to close the LIE, he talked to his cousin, Victor Canales, 27, of Holbrook, on his cell phone. Usually, when Canales was done working as disc jockey "Vic Latino" for WKTU/103.5 in Jersey City, he would meet Hernandez near Exit 49, Canales said Tuesday. Following his cousin home as they headed east was a comforting routine, Canales said.

But when they talked Monday night, Hernandez told him he'd be working overtime. "He said, 'I'll see you Wednesday,' " Canales recalled. So near Exit 51, where Hernandez was stationed, they waved at each other as Canales drove past.

Second Squad detectives were trying to determine what caused the crash. Police Tuesday were unable to say to say how fast Hernandez was driving. An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday.

Hernandez is the first Suffolk police officer to die in the line of duty in nearly a decade. In 1995, Sgt. Timothy Henck, 30, died after a burglary suspect crashed into his patrol car on the LIE.

A 19-year veteran of the department, Hernandez was a highly decorated officer who was awarded Cop of the Year twice and Cop of the Month eight times, Dormer said. A member of the Highway Patrol Bureau, Hernandez's past assignments included working undercover with the Narcotics Enforcement Team.

"We lost one of our finest officers last night," Dormer said Tuesday afternoon. "He was involved in a lot of live-saving incidents."

In 1994, Hernandez was named Cop of the Year for helping a Virginia State Trooper arrest someone along I-95. Hernandez was driving home from a vacation in Florida when he noticed the trooper struggling with a man, Dormer said. The trooper had suffered a heart attack in the midst of trying to make an arrest. Hernandez also helped translate for troopers at the scene because the man in custody only spoke Spanish.

In 2002, Hernandez saved the life of a woman on the LIE who was driving a Chevy Blazer that had a malfunctioning accelerator and couldn't stop. Hernandez positioned his patrol car to prevent the Blazer from hitting other vehicles on the expressway, letting it crash into his back bumper. The woman he saved, Elizabeth Jordan of Mount Sinai, called police officials early Tuesday to express her condolences, Dormer said.

Hernandez was living a childhood dream of becoming a police officer, his cousin said, adding that he was dedicated to their large Puerto Rican family. Canales acted as the family spokesman Tuesday, saying Hernandez's wife was too distraught to talk about her husband.

Hernandez is survived by his wife, Coralee; their two children, Edwin, 25, and Tania, 21, both of Ridge; his parents, Jovita and Nicholas Hernandez, his brother Nicholas Hernandez and sister Diana Apicella, all of Port St. Lucie; and two grandchildren, Max Navarro, 5, and Brandon Hernandez, 2.

The family will receive visitors Wednesday and Thursday, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Maloney Funeral Home in Holbrook. A police service will be held there Thursday at 8 p.m. A funeral mass is scheduled for 10:45 a.m. on Friday at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Holbrook.

Officers who worked with Hernandez on the LIE Monday night were too distraught to talk Tuesday but told Dormer that before Hernandez left he said, "Goodnight and be careful."

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy returned from the Democratic National Convention in Boston Tuesday morning after hearing of Hernandez's death. The two graduated from Sachem High School in 1977, Levy said. "I would have been here for any downed officer," he said. "But you make that extra effort for someone you knew personally."

Above all, Hernandez's cousin said, their family has lost their hero. "He was the backbone of the family," Canales said. "He was Superman to us."

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