NEW YORK: A bulletproof vest saved the life of a young Bronx cop shot three times by a man who snapped after his mother’s home health aide spurned his romantic advances.
Officer Robert Salerno, 25, was in critical but stable condition Monday night after surgery for two gunshot wounds to his lower abdomen. A third .38-caliber bullet lodged in the vest protecting his chest and would have been fatal if he wasn’t wearing the body armor, police said.
“Officer Salerno, a brave young man, is very lucky. It could have been much worse,” Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. Salerno – the first cop shot in the line of duty this year – returned fire 16 times, emptying his magazine. Three cops with him fired a total of five rounds in the deadly 12:30 p.m. confrontation.
The suspect, Santiago Urena, 57, was found facedown, a fatal shot through the side of his head and his gun under his body.
Kelly said the fatal shot may have been self-inflicted, but investigators could not rule out the possibility Urena was felled by a police round. An autopsy is scheduled for today. Cops were summoned to 3073 Park Ave. by terrified health aide Yesenia Rodriguez, who called 911 after Urena slapped her and threatened her with a gun, police said.
A police source said Urena had often propositioned Rodriguez, who worked 12-hour shifts caring for Urena’s 91-year-old mother after his father’s death late last year.
The last straw came as she spoke on the phone to her husband in the Dominican Republic on Monday. “He’s hovering around and saying, ‘Oh, you better be careful. She’s cheating on you,'” the police source said.
Angry, she hung up and told Urena to leave her alone. Neighbor Jimmy Molina, 54, who helped translate Rodriguez’s account for police, told the Daily News that Urena became enraged.
“He smacked the [expletive] out of her, knocked her to the ground. Then he pulled out a gun and said, ‘I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you,'” Molina said.
She ran down to the lobby and called 911. When the 44th Precinct cops arrived, Urena’s brother, Demetrio, 69, led them to apartment 2G, where the suspect was alone and armed in a rear bedroom.
Salerno, on the force for three years, was first through the door as Urena opened fire without warning, cops said. The officers returned fire and then carried the wounded Salerno from the apartment. They told him, “You’re gonna make it, you’re gonna be all right,” Molina said. Urena, a former airport worker with no criminal record, died in the apartment at the Morrisania Air Rights houses.
His mother, Ana Celia Urena, who was in a back bedroom, was later carried out with her oxygen tank. Mayor Bloomberg visited Salerno, whose parents were at his bedside at Lincoln Hospital.
Bloomberg said that by coincidence, he recognized Salerno’s father, Joe, who used to run a garage in upstate Armonk, where the mayor vacationed.
“When I walked in the room, I thought, ‘I know this guy!,'” he said. “It makes it personal for me.” Neighbors and relatives called Salerno a fine man with a sunny personality who was devoted to his job.
“He’s a health freak, so I’m sure that helped. I think he’s going to be fine,” said his uncle, Rocco Bambace, 58. “I’m going to make fun of him when he gets out and say, ‘I hope they didn’t hit any of those tattoos of yours.'”
Demetrio Urena said his brother had gone into a tailspin since losing his job. “You know, those things get to you. He got to the point where he did not care about life,” he said Monday night. “We just buried my father. Now we are going to bury my brother.”