Off-duty Conn. officer helps end violent crime spree

By Josh Kovner
Copyright 2007 The Hartford Courant, Conn. 

MIDDLETOWN -- Were it not for the efforts of off-duty Middletown Police Officer Rob Siena and several civilians, a violent, one-man spree of carjacking and crashes through four towns may not have ended Saturday afternoon on Main Street in Cromwell.

"He's got a sister who lives in Middletown," Siena said Monday of Danilo Rivera, the man charged in the spree. "We think that's where he may have been trying to get to."

Siena, 42, a 19-year veteran of the force, was driving his Nissan pickup to work Saturday shortly before 2:30 p.m. He was in full uniform and wearing his duty belt. He said he noticed cars parked on the shoulder, as if they had stopped suddenly. Then he saw a scuffle -- people struggling around a car parked near a gas station at 529 Main St. He got out and ran to it. As he grabbed a man who was already being taken down by civilians, Siena shouted out: "What's going on? What have we got here?"

"He's trying to carjack this guy," a voice shouted in response.

"At that point I thought, 'This guy's my prisoner.' I cuffed him and we sat on him to pin him down until Cromwell officers rolled up," Siena said. "They got there pretty fast, and they said they'd been looking for this guy. I still didn't know what was going on, but then I saw Hartford cruisers pull up, and Rocky Hill and state police, and I knew it was pretty serious."

Police said Rivera's odyssey began in Hartford and continued through Wethersfield, Rocky Hill and into Cromwell, where it ended when Rivera crashed a stolen Honda into a Jeep and then into a guardrail. He tried to steal the Jeep, was thwarted, and ran across the street to try to steal another car, police said.

According to police, Rivera, 28, of Hartford, a convicted burglar and drug offender with a history of fleeing from police and resisting arrest, had stolen three cars, one of them with a 7-year-old boy in the back seat, before he was tackled by the civilians and Siena during an attempt to steal at least a fifth vehicle.

Hartford Police Officer Guisseppe Uccello was off duty when he saw the car theft involving the child on Airport Road in Hartford and pursued the car as it sped south on I-91. The child was let out at the Route 5 and 15 split before the driver sped off. Uccello stopped and tended to the boy, described by police as hysterical but unhurt.

"If that was my kid that he took with him -- I don't know what I'd be thinking or what I would have done," said Siena, a father of two boys, 11 and 13. "That Hartford officer deserves a lot of credit, and so do the civilians in Cromwell. At least two men were with me holding the guy down. They saw it from the beginning and they jumped right in. It was nice to see everyone chipping in and not letting this guy get away."

Siena said Rivera was bitten by a large Rottweiler that may have been in the last car that Rivera is accused of trying to steal.

"The dog was outside the car as we were detaining him," Siena said. "He was a big one. I'm glad he didn't take a chunk out of me."

Bail for Rivera was set at $1 million Monday after his arraignment in Superior Court in Hartford. He was charged by Cromwell police with a slew of offenses including robbery by carjacking, larceny and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Hartford police have charged him with kidnapping, risk of injury to a minor, larceny, racing and several other motor-vehicle offenses.

Siena said Rivera made several remarks at the scene.

"He made the statement that someone in his family had died, that that's why he did this. He did say he was high on crack cocaine," Siena said.

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