A phalanx of nearly 200 New York City Police Department officers lined Willis Avenue in front of the Church of St. Aidan in Williston Park on an overcast Tuesday morning to honor the memory of 33-year-old Fred Barraza, an officer in the 110th Precinct and resident of Williston Park who died early last Thursday morning in an automobile accident.
An honor guard of police officers carried Barraza’s flag-draped coffin on their shoulders into the church, followed by mourners who were led by his wife, Allison, and his six-year-old son, Jake, who wore his father’s cap and badge.
Barraza died Thursday morning when his 1994 Honda Accord veered out of control while traveling north on Carman Street in Westbury, crossed into the southbound lanes and struck a tree. Barraza’s cousin, 35-year-old Jose Valdevenito, a passenger in the vehicle, was thrown from the car, according to police, and remains in serious condition in Nassau University Medical Center.
Barraza, whose father in-law was former Village of Williston Park justice Alan Reardon, was in his fifth year of service with the 110th Precinct in North Corona, Queens.
Sgt. Thomas Passolo, Barraza’s immediate superior, said the officer was “big-hearted” and was always willing to take on dangerous assignments as an undercover officer in the precinct’s business unit over the past three years.
“There’s 150 officers in our precinct. You can’t find anybody who would say a bad word about him,” Passolo said. “He was a big Chilean teddy bear.
Barraza’s partner, Officer David Sorponieri, who attended the police academy with him, called his partner’s death “a tremendous loss.”
“He was somebody who was always there for you, someone who always had a smile. He loved the job,” Sorponieri said.
Barraza, born in Chile, came to the U.S. at age two, according to Reardon, who recalled his son-in-law’s warm spirit and his large appetite.
“I loved to cook. He loved to eat,” Reardon said.
Barraza, who stood 6 feet tall and weighed 270 pounds, was an avid sportsman. He was the punter on the New York City Police Department football team and a pitcher on the 110th Precinct softball squad.
He was guardian of his younger brother, Kevin, who delivered the second scriptural reading of the Mass of Christian Burial in St. Aidan’s. A group of his football teammates from Bishop Kellenberg High School were conspicuous in their game jerseys, sitting among the police officers.
Jillian Arzbach, Barraza’s sister-in-law, delivered the first scriptural reading. The first sentence of the reading, from the Book of Wisdom, seemed an apt epitaph for Barraza: “The just man, though he die early, will be at rest.”
Soprano Andrea Martini sang a moving interpretation of “Amazing Grace” following the readings.
In his eulogy, Rev. Monisgnor James McDonald praised Barraza and the officers assembled at mass for what he called the “extraordinarily difficult” profession they had chosen.
“You know sadness, injustice and cruelty every single day. It’s a profession where you are willing to give your life for the people, people you don’t even know,” he said. He said they are an imitation of Jesus Christ, and paraphrased those words attributed to Christ, adding, “Greater love has no man than he who lays down his life for his friend.”
Recalling the reading Kevin Barraza delivered from St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, Msgr. McDonald concluded, “We shall be with the Lord forever. May he give Fred eternal peace.”
Barraza’s brother Alvin, read an open letter to his brother at the end of the funeral service.
“You were my rock, my superman, you were always there for me,” he said. He described him as a “spontaneous, adventurous man” who “lived life with no fear.”
“You were the kindest, most caring person I’ve ever known,” he concluded.
As Martini sang the closing hymn, “On Eagle’s Wings,” the police officers filed out of the church and resumed their positions in the middle of Willis Avenue as the honor guard proceeded down the main aisle with the coffin. Two buglers played taps as the honor guard placed the coffin back in the funeral hearse and removed the flag that had covered it.
A lone bagpiper played as the hearse drove away slowly with the honor guard marching on either side of it.
Along with his wife, young son and brothers, Barraza is survived by many aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, some of who he visited each year in his native Chile.