NEW YORK — A man accused of stealing an ambulance and then driving it over a fire department medic, crushing her to death, told reporters he wasn't guilty as he was escorted out of a police station Friday surrounded by angry uniformed emergency medical technicians, who hurled insults.
"I'm innocent. I didn't do nothing," said Jose Gonzalez, 25, who was set to be arraigned in a Bronx courtroom later Friday on charges including murder.
In a twist, authorities said he lived on the same block as the Fire Department Emergency Medical Services technician he is accused of killing, Yadira Arroyo.
Police said Gonzalez, who has 31 prior arrests, was high on drugs when he hopped on the back of Arroyo's ambulance as it drove through the Bronx on Thursday evening on its way to a routine medical call. He has a history of violent and erratic behaviour with police, they said.
Arroyo, who was 44 and had five sons, worked as medic for 14 years and was incredibly dedicated, responding to calls even during asthma attacks, her colleagues said Friday.
Fire officials draped black and purple bunting over Arroyo's stationhouse in a sombre ceremony as uniformed officers saluted and bagpipers played "Amazing Grace."
"Yadi was the matriarch of the station," Lt. George Lampon said, choking back tears. "She was not only a mother of five, but a mother to the 100-plus people who worked here. She will live on in the lives she saved and the people she helped."
Another medic, Anastasia Rabos, said Arroyo was a great mentor and friend.
"She was a very humble person. I love her, we all love her and we will never forget her," she said.
Fire officials said she was bravely doing her job when she and a partner over after being alerted that someone was on the back of the vehicle.
When they got out to check, Gonzalez ran around the ambulance, got in and threw the vehicle in reverse, authorities said. Arroyo was struck and became trapped beneath the wheels.
Gonzalez was captured moments later by a passing transit police officer and a civilian bystander after the ambulance hit several parked cars and got stuck on a snowbank, authorities said.
Video posted on Twitter by a bystander captured the horrific scene as it unfolded. It showed the ambulance speeding across an intersection with one of its doors open, its lights flashing and Arroyo's body being dragged beneath the vehicle.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said Friday EMTs do crucial work and while they know it can be dangerous, they still don't expect violence. He said Arroyo was extremely brave.
"We will with her family celebrate her life," he said. "We will mourn her death and stand strong together."
Arroyo's family was devastated. Her sister-in-law Monica Salazar told the New York Post that Arroyo's children range in age from 7 to 24, and the youngest lives in Connecticut. All but the youngest were able to say goodbye.
"It was devastating. It was their mother. They were very upset, but the eldest held it together for the others, and he gave them a beautiful speech saying he was going to take care of his brothers and be a rock for them," she told The Post.
There was no immediate information on an attorney who could comment on Gonzalez's behalf. Gonzalez lived at a group home for about a month for chronically homeless single adults.
The second EMT was treated at a Bronx hospital for minor injuries, police said.
The video posted on Twitter captured both the arrest of the driver and a scene of anguish as the second EMT kneeled, sobbing, over the body of her fallen partner. Arroyo had been with the Fire Department of New York for 14 years, officials said.
Justin Lopez told the Daily News that he shot the video as his brother was driving.
"I was coming from the street, up to the red light, and I just saw the ambulance, the sirens and lights, and I told my brother, 'Look, something's happening,' and then somebody just hopped in, and then he hit two cars and ran over the person," he said. "I realized he was hijacking the car."
Colleen Long, The Associated Press