NEW YORK – Thousands of mourners packed a Bronx church Saturday and filled the streets outside for the funeral of an emergency worker who was struck by her own ambulance and killed after the vehicle was stolen.
Yadira Arroyo, a 14-year veteran of the New York Fire Department and a mother of five sons, was responding with another emergency medical technician to a routine call Thursday when they were flagged down by a pedestrian about a theft, authorities say. Arroyo got out of the vehicle and a man darted into the driver's seat and ran over her, officials say.
EMTs from around the city Saturday joined thousands of bystanders lining the streets to honor her. A large screen television was installed outside the church to broadcast the ceremony for those who couldn't fit inside.
Arroyo, 44, was beloved by colleagues at her station house and in her Bronx community. Her colleagues described her as a dedicated EMT who responded to calls even during asthma attacks and as a mother figure to her co-workers.
Twenty-five-year-old Jose Gonzalez has been charged with murder in Arroyo's death. Authorities say Gonzalez hopped on the back of the ambulance, then darted into the driver's seat and ran Arroyo down after a man on the street flagged the vehicle down to say Gonzalez had stolen his backpack.
Gonzalez told reporters Friday he is innocent, while his lawyer said he's mentally ill and didn't act intentionally.
Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro said during a wake Friday that the outpouring of support shows the respect people have for Arroyo.
"She certainly lived as a hero, and died as a hero for this city. We are one large, loving family supporting her very large, loving family, and we will continue to do so throughout the week and forever going forward as we do for all of the families of our heroes," he said.
The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, named for a firefighter killed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, has donated $100,000 to Arroyo's sons. The donation is to be put in a trust for them. The youngest is 7.
The family has received thousands in other donations, too.