NEW YORK (AP) — A man who was fleeing New York City police officers on a motorcycle died Wednesday after a sergeant hurled a plastic picnic cooler at his head at point-blank range, causing a violent crash, sources said the authorities with.
Eric Duprey, 30, who had three young children and worked as a delivery driver, was pronounced dead minutes after he was struck on a Bronx sidewalk. Sergeant Erik Duran was suspended without pay just hours later, an unusually quick disciplinary action by the NYPD.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is in charge of investigating police deaths, is investigating.
Friends and acquaintances attended a vigil for Duprey Thursday night and a makeshift memorial made up of photos, candles and other mementos was created at the spot where he died.
Surveillance video viewed by The Associated Press showed Duprey riding the gas-powered motorcycle down a sidewalk toward a group of people, including the sergeant, who was out of uniform.
As he approached, video shows Duran picking up a red object – the picnic cooler – and throwing it. Duprey gets hit hard. He loses control and is thrown into a tree as the motorcycle turns onto the road. The bike crashes into a metal barricade before crashing into a parked car.
Police said Duprey tried to flee on a friend’s motorcycle after he was caught selling drugs to an undercover cop. The sergeant stood on the sidewalk as part of the Bronx Narcotics Unit’s buy-and-bust drive. Police declined to specify which drugs Duprey allegedly sold. The encounter happened around 5:30 p.m., police said.
When Duprey’s mother, Gretchen Soto, was reached by phone, she told The Associated Press the police account was “all a lie” and insisted her son was not selling drugs or trying to evade officers. She said she was on video call with him from Puerto Rico on Wednesday when the screen suddenly went black.
“He wasn’t on the run. He wasn’t on the run. He was on the motorbike and spoke to me on video chat. And he was passing by this place when suddenly the call cut off,” she said in Spanish.
She said Duprey, who lived in the Bronx, had children aged 3, 5 and 9.
“You left three fatherless babies,” Soto said. “I will experience justice.”
Erika Duprey Soto, 31, described her younger brother as a loving father with a lifelong passion for motorcycles, who is affectionately known as “Cuajo,” a slang term for ears. He followed her from Puerto Rico to the Bronx in 2015, where he found work with the city’s parks department before taking a job as an Uber Eats driver.
Erika Duprey Soto said family members waited on the street next to an ambulance for six hours before authorities confirmed the death.
“The children don’t accept that their father is in heaven now,” Soto said. “He was always by her side. They say, ‘He’s still in the ambulance.’”
The NYPD said it was cooperating with the attorney general’s investigation
“The NYPD is committed to ensuring that this incident is fully, thoroughly and transparently investigated in order to establish the facts and take appropriate action,” the department said in a statement.
A message was left asking for comment from Duran’s union. The Daily News initially reported the incident.
Duran, a 13-year veteran of the department, joined the Bronx Narcotics Unit last September. According to a police personnel database, he has received dozens of awards from the department for outstanding and meritorious police service.
According to the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, Duran’s disciplinary record contains a valid complaint of abuse of authority at a stop last year.