Vietnamese-American Police Officer Body Found
Robert Nguyen was the first Vietnamese-American Police Officer in the Jersey City Police Department.
JERSEY CITY - One by one, the row of officers lifted their hands and saluted as the ambulance bearing the flag-draped body of Police Officer Robert Nguyen passed in a long line of emergency vehicles.
The motorcade snaked down Route 440, passing the officer's stationhouse before crossing the bridge that claimed his life and heading into rainy Kearny. Officers stood |at attention along the entire route.
Less than two hours earlier, New York Police Department divers found the 30-year-old officer's body wedged in debris at the bottom of the Hackensack River shipping channel.
The recovery brought to a close a search of the dreary river that started on Christmas night, when the truck carrying Nguyen and his partner, 40-year-old Shawn Carson, plunged 45 feet off an open drawbridge on Routes 1 and 9. Divers recovered Carson about 90 minutes later. His funeral is today.
The search for Nguyen's body proved difficult, and rescue workers grew weary as it entered its fifth day Thursday. But just as a wake for Carson was beginning in a Baptist church two miles away, NYPD divers John Drzal and Dennis Nicic found Nguyen's body in a space between large chunks of concrete.
"We had to feel through voids and pilings under there, concrete blocks," Drzal said. "Concrete with rebar in it. Holes and voids on the river bottom, and that's where we found our fellow officer."
But there was no celebration - just sadness coupled with relief that police could help bring closure to Nguyen's family, which spent the last several days waiting on the Kearny side of the Lincoln Highway Bridge.
"The family was keeping vigil, saying prayers all day," Jersey City Police Chief Robert Troy said. "We're just glad their prayers have been answered and they were not in vain."
Nguyen's body was first taken to the riverbank in Kearny. After positively identifying the officer, his family was given time alone with the body in the back of the ambulance, Mayor Jerramiah Healy said. Officers then draped Nguyen's body with an American flag as they prepared the caravan. The officer's family followed the ambulance in a Passaic County Sheriff's Department bus as the body was taken to the medical examiner's office in Newark.
"They found our brother, and they brought our brother home, and we are grateful for that," Troy said of the divers.
Finding Nguyen, however, was not easy.
When the truck hit the water, the impact shattered several windows, through which Nguyen's body apparently drifted, police said. The body came to rest about 90 feet southwest of the bridge -about 50 feet below the water's surface. It was wedged into concrete debris from what appeared to be a former bridge, Drzal said.
"Concrete blocks were formed together and they created a ditch or a hole," he said. "There were hundreds of them."
Divers were forced to feel around blindly on the river bottom, as the murky water made seeing anything impossible, he said. Drzal felt Nguyen's arm along one of the blocks about 1:30 p.m.
Each diver - the NYPD had 25 of them on the scene - underwent a decontamination process after returning to dry land.
"There are PCBs in the water, it's polluted, a lot of bacteria in the water," Drzal said. "We had to acclimate ourselves to the conditions."
Nguyen's brother, Mason, said family members were relieved.
"Thank you to every single person involved," he said. "Some of the pain is gone because he is back with us. Now we have to give him a proper burial."
The investigation into what went wrong in the rain Christmas night also continued Thursday. At least five agencies, including Jersey City police, the state police and the state Department of Transportation, are probing the accident.
Police have focused their investigation on possible lapses in communication Sunday night when Nguyen and Carson brought flares to a patrol unit controlling traffic on the Kearny side of the bridge. Police closed the bridge to vehicles because a vessel needed to pass under it after a truck damaged a gate Friday.
The two members of the elite Emergency Services Unit dropped off the flares on the Kearny side of the bridge and turned around to come back, but the bridge operator had opened the center span of the vertical lift bridge in the interim. To the horror of two officers on the scene, the pair plunged into the river sometime after 8:15 p.m.
"Everything that could go wrong went wrong," Police Lt. Tom Comey said.
Mourners streamed in and out of Mount Olive Baptist Church throughout Thursday for Carson's wake.
As night drew near, floodlights illuminated the street as officers and emergency personnel in dress uniforms, as well as family, friends and acquaintances stepped into the church for a final farewell to a man described as a caring person. Clusters of emergency personnel shared hugs and tears as lights spun atop police cars, an ambulance and even a firetruck.
Rickey Bailey, who used to work at Jersey City Medical Center, knew Carson in passing, occasionally joking and chatting with the officer when he came in on official business.
"He was funny, a real good guy," Bailey said. "He was always kidding around."
Bailey, now a sergeant in the Jersey City Housing Authority's Police Unit, said Carson was always friendly and ready to lend a hand.
"He didn't act all hard or stuck up because he was in uniform," Bailey said. "He had a good heart."
Even people with only the slightest connection to Carson drifted into the somber viewing. Some arrived in suits, but many people who just happened to walk by the barricaded street, poked their bowed heads into the church.
Duval Brown, who attends the church and had the same barber as Carson, said he felt moved to attend the service.
"Even though I didn't know him that well, I thought it was important to pay my respects," Brown said. "After reading about it and hearing about it, this event holds certain memories. It is something I will remember."
A distraught Robin Stettler emerged from the wake in tears and recounted how Carson once carried her ailing daughter into a police station and later helped pick up her medication.
Stettler said she had known Carson for years and was devastated when she heard about the accident.
"He was a good friend and a kind man always willing to help someone," the Jersey City Heights resident said. "Everybody in the neighborhood is real down. We were all just praying they would find the other officer. Thank God they did."
Carson's funeral will be held this morning at Mount Olive.
Services for Nguyen have not yet been finalized.
"I want everyone to know who he was, his character," Mason Nguyen said. "He was my brother, he was my hero, and I loved him."
Link: http://www.northjersey.com/page.php?qstr=eXJpcnk3ZjczN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXkzJmZnYmVs N2Y3dnFlZUVFeXk2ODQ3NzczJnlyaXJ5N2Y3MTdmN3ZxZWVFRX l5Mg==
"The Communists will defeat us, not by
virtue of their strength, but because
of our weakness. They will win by default."
Ngo Dinh Diem