02/01/2004

Sergeant Dies After Chasing NYC Sidewalk Vendor

Officer Down: Keith Ferguson - [New York City, New York]

By Michael Wilson, The New York Times

38-year-old New York police sergeant sprinting after a fake watch dealer in SoHo collapsed on a sidewalk yesterday afternoon and died, the police said.

The sergeant, Keith Ferguson of Brooklyn, an avid swimmer and diver and a 17-year veteran of the force, was a member of one of the elite Hercules Unit counterterrorism teams that patrol the city, highly visible and heavily armed in sport utility vehicles.

He had also been a member of the Emergency Service Unit since 1998, assigned to Unit 7 and based in the 75th Precinct in East New York. Yesterday, he was patrolling with three fellow officers in the Fifth Precinct in Lower Manhattan.

The precinct includes parts of Chinatown, Little Italy and SoHo, and on weekends, brims with tourists, window-shoppers and bargain hunters, and scores of sidewalk vendors like the one Sergeant Ferguson was chasing. The vendor had been spotted selling counterfeit Oakley sunglasses by a patrol officer, the police said.

The dealer ran off, and the officer called for backup. Sergeant Ferguson and the other Hercules officers were nearby, at Lafayette and Grand Streets.

The officers had caught the dealer a block away, at Grand and Broadway, when Sergeant Ferguson came running over. "While he was standing, with the guy in cuffs, he just fell," said a salesman at Citilimit, an upscale shoe store on the corner.

"He didn't say anything," Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said last night at a news conference. "No words were spoken."

Fellow officers tried to revive the sergeant before he was rushed to St. Vincent's Manhattan Hospital in Greenwich Village. "Doctors here worked furiously on Sergeant Ferguson, but couldn't revive him," Commissioner Kelly said at the hospital.

Sergeant Ferguson was pronounced dead at 2:40 p.m., the commissioner said.

"Unfortunately, we don't know the cause," Mr. Kelly said. "He hasn't been out sick for over 10 years, so it truly is a tragedy, one we can't explain at this time."

The sergeant was "an accomplished swimmer and diver and was known to be in very good health," the commissioner said. He is survived by his father, a retired police officer, his mother in Texas, and a brother, Mr. Kelly said. "His father told me he totally loved the job," said Mr. Kelly, who spoke to him at the hospital.

When Sergeant Ferguson's body was taken from the hospital after dark last night, 20 officers saluted the ambulance as it passed. The sergeant had worked in an auto crime unit and as an officer in Brooklyn before joining the Hercules Unit.

The watch vendor was identified by the police as Demba-Yero Sall, 43, of Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. He was charged with unlicensed vending, resisting arrest and trademark counterfeiting, the police said.

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