NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City police officer killed by a suspected drunken driver was hailed Tuesday at his funeral as a humble public servant, a doting father and a “perfect picture of the American dream.”
Anastasios Tsakos, a 14-year veteran of the police department, was struck and killed last week while assisting officers at the scene of an earlier crash on the Long Island Expressway in Queens.
“It does not make sense how someone could live his life right in every way and be taken from us so horribly, but his heroism uplifts us,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told mourners at a Long Island church. “Some people are true heroes. Some people are there for others. And that in every way was Anastasios Tsakos.”
Tsakos, raised in Greece and New York City, served in the Greek army after high school, worked in his father’s diner on Long Island, studied aviation in college and dreamed of flying helicopters for the NYPD, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said.
Tsakos, a member of the department’s elite highway unit, was proud of his work taking drunk and reckless drivers off the streets, Shea said. With the department curbing overtime, he’d go to court to testify on his own time because he hated seeing people get away with wrongdoing, Shea said.
The police commissioner posthumously promoted Tsakos, known to friends as Taso, to detective first grade and presented a gold detective shield to his wife, Irene.
Large portraits of Tsakos and flower displays, including one showing the Greek and American flags, flanked his casket at Saint Paraskevi Greek Orthodox Shrine Church in Greenlawn.
“He absolutely was a great cop,” Shea said. “Taso was, from beginning to end, a very intelligent and hardworking man. He was the envy of his peers. He was really a perfect picture of the American dream. An example of our nation’s great diversity. Also, an example of the extraordinary call to service that so many courageous New Yorkers embrace.”
Tsakos, 43, was struck around 2 a.m. on April 27 while standing next to his police car at the scene of an earlier crash that left one person dead. The car that hit Tsakos was driven by a woman who police say was intoxicated and driving with a suspended license. She fled, but was arrested a short time later.
Jessica Beauvais, 32, of Hempstead, is charged with vehicular manslaughter, driving while intoxicated, aggravated unlicensed driving and leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in death. She was ordered jailed without bail and is due back in court on May 12.
After her arrest, Beauvais tearfully told reporters: “I’m sorry because I hit him and that he’s dead.”
De Blasio, in his remarks, called on state lawmakers to strengthen penalties for people who harm or kill others while driving under the influence, saying that current drunken driving laws are of little deterrent.
“We need to make this change and we need to make it in honor of Officer Anastasios Tsakos,” de Blasio said.
The Stephen Siller Tunnel To Towers Foundation, started after 9/11 to support families of fallen first responders, has said that it will pay off the mortgage on Tsakos’ home.
Irene Tsakos said her husband was a loving father to their 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son, building little houses out of cardboard boxes, playing horsey, teaching them the names of all of his tools and letting their daughter play hairdresser with his hair.
Anastasios Tsakos was an eternal optimist and an avid motorcycle rider, Irene told family, friends and police officials — many wearing masks because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a pilot, he dreamed of hitting the lottery so he could buy a small plane and they could travel the world, she said.
“I will miss everything about him. Everything. Most of all, I will miss his hugs,” Irene Tsakos said before lingering over her husband’s open casket as the church cleared of all but a few mourners.
“I wish he had more time — to watch our kids grow, see them off to college and get married,” she said. “I wish we could grow old together. That was the plan. But he was taken from us too soon.”
Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak