The following articles appear courtesy of the Staten Island Advance.
I wish to thank the Advance and its fine staff of writers.

Killer ex-cop's final indignity

Former NYPD detective sentenced to 21 years in road-rage death
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
By JEFF HARRELL

STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Anger replaced tears as the widow of a slain retired Port Authority police officer blasted a former NYPD detective before he was shipped off to prison for gunning down her husband.

"You should be a retired police officer, a person who took an oath to protect and serve," Karen Vitale told Allen Lau, who was sentenced yesterday in state Supreme Court, St. George, to 21 years behind bars for the fatal shooting of Steven Vitale.

"Instead," Mrs. Vitale said, "you are a disgrace to the men and women who go out every day and put their lives on the line to uphold the law."

Lau reacted to the scolding by turning his head toward the widow and belching.

The 48-year-old New Springville resident was given the 21-year sentence in exchange for his guilty plea earlier this month to first-degree manslaughter in the shooting of Vitale, 55, two years ago at a New Springville strip plaza.

Justice Stephen J. Rooney also gave Lau five years' post-release supervision as a packed courtroom filled with Port Authority cops and members of Vitale's family looked on.

The judge called the slaying "senseless and heinous."

Dressed in a green sport shirt, black shorts and white sneakers, the stocky Lau remained seated with his hands cuffed behind his back.

"I was a very honorable police officer," Lau said. "I was an exemplary police officer. I did my job well. This has nothing to do with that."

Vitale was described as a "sweetheart of a guy" by neighbors, friends and family members. The retired 21-year law enforcement veteran founded the Port Authority Police Department's Emergency Service Unit and had been in charge of its canine unit until joining a private security firm.

He was one of the first to respond when the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993, pulling people out of the rubble and helped the injured, all the while knowing that his wife was at work on the 53rd floor of Tower 1.

"When I got to the scene, I triaged 50 patients ... with the help of a doctor," Vitale, who received a Medal of Valor for his rescue work, told the Advance shortly after the bombing. "I tried not to think about my wife, but she was in the back of my mind all the time."

Mrs. Vitale was with her husband and his black Labrador retriever, Philly, on April 10, 2006, he was gunned down by Lau in a hail of bullets as Vitale left his SUV to walk to a Chinese takeout restaurant in a Richmond Hill Road strip mall.

One bullet hit Philly in the right ear, but the dog survived.

Lau also shot at Mrs. Vitale, but missed.

Police believed road rage triggered the slaying. Sources alleged that Lau might have become furious after being cut off by another motorist on the Staten Island Expressway, or because he thought Vitale was driving too slowly.

Lau surrendered to police following an eight-hour standoff at his Travis Avenue home. He told a hostage negotiator he was an alcoholic and had downed a bottle of vodka. Police later seized a cache of firearms and ammunition from the home, including pistols, shotguns, semiautomatic rifles and three homemade hand grenades.

Although court-appointed psychiatrists deemed Lau mentally fit to stand trial, the defendant had intended to present an insanity defense before opting to cut a deal with prosecutors Michael Bousquet and Anne Grady, as jury selection was about to begin.

"Sometimes, I feel like I don't have a choice," Lau told Rooney during the plea hearing.

Yesterday, Mrs. Vitale, dressed in black, spoke clearly, her words angry and sharp.

"With the death of one person, so many lost so much," she said. "Most importantly, I lost the love of my life and my daughters lost a father."

Glaring at Lau, she added: "We are all painfully aware of the circumstances of your actions ... but what upsets me the most is your ability to show absolutely no remorse or sorrow for the devastation you have caused."

Lau's defense attorney, David Schwartz, said his client's statement was misunderstood.

"It's hard to judge remorse by a one-line sentence on a life-shaking, horrible tragedy," Schwartz said.

"This was a fair deal," Schwartz added. "Certainly, the facts support the end result."

Outside state Supreme Court, St. George, Mrs. Vitale said she was "satisfied" with the sentence.

"It's time to slowly start moving forward and begin to live a productive life," she said.

Lau retired about a year before the shooting, after serving 20 years with the NYPD. He worked at Ground Zero comforting victims' relatives after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and was involved in one shooting incident during his NYPD career. In 1991, Lau shot and killed a robber who threatened him with a fake gun. The shooting was ruled justified.

Outside the courthouse, a detective bristled over Lau's bombast during his sentencing statement, claiming the former cop spent more time on sick leave than on the job.

"He had 50 sick occasions, but only made 17 arrests," the detective said. "He was no hero."

As Lau was led out of the courtroom, he smiled and nodded his head at two family members. Both declined comment outside the courthouse.
 



Staten Islander pleads guilty to slaying Port Authority hero in road-rage incident

by Staten Island Advance

Monday June 09, 2008, 3:29 PM

 

Advance file photo

Retired police officer Allen Lau will serve 21 years in prison under a plea deal.

A former cop pleaded guilty today to gunning down a retired hero Port Authority police officer in an apparent road-rage incident on Staten Island two years ago.

Allen Lau, 48, told Justice Stephen Rooney "sometimes I feel like I don't have a choice," while entering his plea to a count of first-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Steven Vitale, a New Springville resident.

Under the deal he will serve 21 years in prison. He faced 25 years to life if convicted on the top charge of second-degree murder.

Vitale was killed in a hail of bullets on April 10, 2006, as he left his SUV to walk to a Chinese takeout restaurant on Richmond Hill Road. The bullets narrowly missed Vitale's wife, Karen, and wounded the couple's black Labrador retriever, Philly.

Police believed Lau may have been enraged at being cut off by another motorist on the Staten Island Expressway, or because he believed Vitale, 55, was driving too slowly. The two men apparently did not know each other.

Lau is scheduled to be sentenced June 24.

Vitale, a well-respected and decorated police officer, aided in the rescue of victims at the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, for which he received the Medal of Valor. He founded the Port Authority Police Department's Emergency Service Unit and was in charge of its canine unit before joining a private security firm.

-- Contributed by Frank Donnelly


Retired cop's murder trial will remain on Staten Island, judge rules

by Staten Island Advance

Monday June 02, 2008, 2:35 PM

 

Allen Lau, seen here leaving the North Shore's 120th Precinct stationhouse in 2006, had his request to move his trial off Staten Island denied.

A judge today denied a retired cop's bid to move his murder trial off Staten Island for the alleged slaying of a retired Port Authority police officer in an apparent road-rage incident two years ago in New Springville.

Allen Lau, 48, sought a change of venue, contending in court papers that pretrial publicity on the case "reveals deep resentment" toward him in the borough "that would make it difficult for him to receive a fair trial" here.

"The press coverage of the case exhibited affirmative hostility" against him, Lau charged in those documents.

Jury selection is now slated for Monday in state Supreme Court, St. George, after Justice Stephen Rooney shot down Lau's motion from the bench. The judge said such a request should not be made until after jurors are questioned.

Lau is accused of gunning down Steven Vitale, of New Springville, in a hail of bullets on April 10, 2006, as the victim left his SUV to walk to a Chinese take-out restaurant on Richmond Hill Road. The bullets narrowly missed Vitale's wife, Karen, and wounded the couple's black Labrador retriever, Philly.

Police have said Lau may have been enraged at being cut off by another motorist on the Staten Island Expressway, or because he believed Vitale, 55, was driving too slowly. The two men apparently did not know each other.

During a subsequent standoff in which Lau holed up in his Travis Avenue home for almost eight hours, he told a hostage negotiator he was an alcoholic and had downed a bottle of vodka, according to court records. Police later seized a cache of firearms and ammunition, including pistols, shotguns, semiautomatic rifles and three homemade hand grenades from his house.

After Lau gave up and was arrested, he was taken to Staten Island University Hospital for psychiatric evaluation.

According to court papers, Lau intends to raise an insanity defense at trial. He maintains his intent for the crimes was impaired by his "severe mental illness" along with his "alcoholism" and "his withdrawal state."

Outside court, defense lawyers Ronald E. Kliegerman and David M. Schwartz declined to elaborate on Lau's alleged psychiatric problems.

Court-appointed psychiatrists have deemed him mentally fit to stand trial, which means he understands the charges against him and can participate in his defense. Such a finding, however, does not preclude presenting an insanity defense.

In denying the change of venue request, Rooney told Lau's lawyers they can re-present the motion after juror questioning begins, should seating a panel prove difficult.

"We think Mr. Lau would get a fairer trial outside Staten Island because of the localized pretrial publicity," Schwartz said outside court.


Family photo

Steven Vitale was gunned down in the parking lot of a Chinese take-out restaurant in April of 2006.

Assistant District Attorneys Michael J. Bousquet and Anne Grady opposed the motion.

Jury selection was to start today
, but was pushed back a week after prosecutors turned over a box of documents to the defense. Lau's attorneys said they would need time to review it. A status conference is set for Thursday at 2 p.m. in advance of next week's jury selection.

Dressed in an olive-colored suit, green shirt and tie, Lau said little during the 30-minute session. Appearing heavier than he was two years ago, his dark hair was cut short and he wears eyeglasses.

Lau could face up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted at trial of second-degree murder. He also is accused of attempted murder and a slew of weapon and ammunition possession charges.

A 20-year NYPD veteran, Lau retired about a year before the incident. He had worked at Ground Zero, comforting victims' relatives after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

In 1991, Lau shot and killed a robber who threatened him with what turned out to be a fake gun. The shooting was ruled justified.

Vitale was a 21-year veteran of the Port Authority Police Department. He was awarded a Medal of Valor for pulling victims out of the rubble in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He founded the PAPD's Emergency Services Unit and was in charge of its canine unit before joining a private security firm.

His family has filed multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit against the city and the New York City Police Department, alleging negligence in the training, hiring and monitoring of Lau and also in licensing him to carry a gun. The case is pending in state Supreme Court, St. George.

-- Contributed by Frank Donnelly


Road rage and a gun; Retired cop is dead

Ex-detective surrenders in the murder of retired Port Authority officer
Tuesday, April 11, 2006

By: Doug Auer

STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE

A retired hero Port Authority cop from New Springville, out with his wife to pick up Chinese food, was shot dead last night, hit at least eight times in a barrage of 17 bullets fired by an ex-NYPD detective who snapped in a fit of road rage because the victim had been driving too slow, cops said.

Steven Vitale, 55, of the 1700 block of Forest Hill Road, was gunned down in front of his wife and numerous shoppers in the parking lot outside the Dynasty Taste in the Kenbar Plaza at 77 Richmond Hill Rd. at about 6:50 p.m.

Vitale's wife, Karen, 50, tried in vain, along with other bystanders, to administer CPR.

He was given a police escort to Staten Island University Hospital, Ocean Breeze, where he was pronounced dead.

Vitale and his wife had apparently just returned from a trip to Atlantic City.

The veteran cop aided in the rescue of victims at the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, for which he received the Medal of Valor. He founded the Port Authority Police Department's Emergency Service Unit and was in charge of its canine unit.

Vitale's black Labrador retriever Philly, who had been in the back of his Jeep Cherokee, was shot once through the right ear, authorities said. He was taken to the Veterinary Emergency Center, Sunnyside, and was expected to make a full recovery.

TENSE STANDOFF

The shooting suspect -- Allen Lau, 46 -- surrendered peacefully to cops at 2:39 a.m. after holing up in his home in the 300 block of Travis Avenue for more than four hours.

The tense standoff brought more than a dozen heavy-duty Emergency Service Unit vehicles to the neighborhood and forced the evacuation of the block, between Evans Street and Kelly Boulevard, as well as some homes on Klondike Avenue.

Throughout the ordeal, an allegedly drunken Lau could be seen by cops drinking beer and stumbling around his home.

He was heard on the police radio apologizing profusely and telling the negotiator he was "embarrassed."

Lau finally emerged with a cigar in his left hand, sporting a long ponytail and wearing a long-sleeve gray sweatshirt, black jeans and brown shoes.

"I'm sorry," he wailed while being wheeled in a stretcher to a nearby ambulance.

Lau was taken to an undisclosed Island hospital, where he was expected to undergo a medical and psychiatric evaluation.

The ex-detective was a 20-year veteran of the Police Department who retired in February from the 17th Precinct in Manhattan; he was looking forward to a retirement party sometime next week, according to police and neighbors.

Lau is expected to be charged with murder in the shooting, which police believe was sparked by road rage. Cops are also investigating whether the two retired officers knew each other.

TAILGATING DISPUTE

According to police, Lau had been tailgating Vitale's blue 2000 Cherokee sport-utility vehicle as they traveled down Richmond Hill Road toward Richmond Avenue.

Lau, who has permits for 17 guns, had also been threatening Vitale by flashing a high-powered rifle through the window, police said.

Emergency Service Unit officers descended on Lau's Travis Avenue house and took cover behind a Bearcat-- an armored truck used by law enforcement for hostage and barricade situations.

Lau began talks on the telephone with a negotiator at about 10 p.m. and could be heard on police radio expressing concerns about media coverage and how his daughter Kimberly would perceive him.

Neighbors said he's divorced.

"Keep talking to me and follow my instructions and you're going to be totally safe," the negotiator told Lau, who stumbled about his home during the hours-long negotiation. He was also be seen by cops changing in and out of his police uniform.

Concerned that cops would rough him up once he came out, Lau asked for friends from the 17th Precinct to be present at the scene.

The distraught man also asked for beer and told the negotiator he felt worthless.

"I don't think anyone who has been a cop 20 years is worthless," said the negotiator. "Being a New York City cop is the toughest job in the world."

At 2:15, Lau opened the door and minutes later came out onto his stoop. About a half hour later, he was safely taken into police custody.

Neighbors described Lau as generally quiet, but sometimes quick-tempered, yelling at kids playing basketball if the ball bounced near his house.

"He'd just come out and flip out," said Thomas Lotito, 14. "I guess he had a short temper."

A mile away at The Oaks, the condominium complex on Forest Hill Road, opposite the Greenbelt, where the Vitales had made their home a little more than two years ago, neighbors expressed shock at the retired cop's violent death.

Vitale, who has three daughters, retired from the Port Authority police in the mid-1990s after 22 years and numerous awards.

He had been working as the head of the K-9 explosive-detection division for GSS Security Services, a Manhattan-based private security


A hero cop, a good guy, a shooting victim

Steven Vitale, decorated for rescuing WTC bombing victims, is mourned by his neighbors
Tuesday, April 11, 2006

By: Maura Yates

ADVANCE STAFF WRITER

Steven Vitale spent his life protecting others.

A decorated former Port Authority police officer who worked as a private security expert, Vitale, 55, went out of his way to make sure people were safe.

His life ended last night when the New Springville father of three grown daughters -- described as a "sweetheart" of a guy -- was gunned down in front of his wife in a case of road rage. He was allegedly shot dead by a retired NYPD detective outside a strip mall on Forest Hill Road.

Vitale's career as a security expert spanned nearly 30 years.

As a Port Authority cop, he earned the Medal of Valor for his rescue work during the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

One of the first responders, Vitale pulled people out of the rubble and helped the injured, all the while knowing that his wife, Karen, was at work on the 53rd floor of Tower 1.

"When I got to the scene, I triaged 50 patients ... with the help of a doctor," Vitale told the Advance shortly after the attack. "I tried not to think about my wife, but she was in the back of my mind all the time."

Vitale was the founder of the Emergency Service Unit of the Port Authority Police Department.

A law enforcement source last night described him as "the consummate professional. A good guy. If this is road rage, what a waste."

After retiring from the Port Authority police, Vitale spent several years as a regional security supervisor for New England Motor Freight and as a security specialist for Federal Express.

In 2002, Vitale became Director of Operations for the K-9 Division of GSS Security Services Inc., Manhattan.

He worked with bomb-sniffing dogs such as Philly, the black Labrador retriever who was wounded in the right ear last night during the shooting. The dog was stable in the Veterinary Emergency Center, Sunnyside.

Vitale, a Brooklyn native, was known for his heart.

He was credited with establishing the Port Authority-sponsored Law Enforcement Torch Run, which became a fund-raiser for the New Jersey Special Olympics.

Vitale's neighbors at The Oaks, condos located along a quiet, tree-lined street, expressed shock last night at the news of his death.

Marie Cox called Vitale "a sweetheart, both him and his wife."

She recalled how he would ride his motorcycle at every opportunity.

Teary-eyed, she put her hand over her mouth. "I can't believe I'm not going to see him tomorrow," she said.

Reflecting on the deadly shooting, neighbor Stuart Beitelman said, "When I grew up, [if] someone had an argument, you had a fight. Maybe you got a black eye."

"Can't you just go home and have a beer?" he said. "Walk away." --


Suspect in road-rage cop killing hoarded guns, scared neighbors

Police remove arsenal from retired detective's New Springville home
Wednesday, April 12, 2006

By: Sally Goldenberg

 STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE

Cops found a massive collection of guns and ammunition in his house.

He had a large fence built years ago around his half of the attached home in New Springville.

He sometimes intimidated neighbors and once stuck a pipe in the street to boobytrap motorcyclists who were annoying him.

The disturbing portrait of alleged cop killer Allen Lau, himself a retired NYPD detective, emerged yesterday as police were trying to figure out why the 46-year-old allegedly opened fire on retired Port Authority cop Stephen Vitale on Monday night in New Springville, killing the decorated officer.

The besieged suspect holed up in his home for close to eight hours, forcing police to evacuate some neighbors from his block of Travis Avenue until he finally surrendered at 2:39 a.m. yesterday.

Lau's behavior in his 16 or more years living at 300 Travis Ave. puzzled his closest neighbor, Mohammad Uppal, who said the ex-cop warned him to be careful about painting part of the house.

"He sent me a letter in the mail saying make sure the guys don't paint his side of the house. It was weird," Uppal said, wondering aloud why Lau didn't just voice his concerns in person.

He also said Lau threatened his kids when their ball rolled into his yard.

Another neighbor, who refused to give her name, said Lau chastised her for telling her godson that he was a retired cop.

"Private. Very private," the 61-year-old said of Lau. "First of all, the fence. That is not normal."

She also said he used to yell at his now ex-wife, Barbara Lau, when the women would talk outside.

But others who know Lau, who lived alone, described him as a mild-mannered man who went to church, offered to help his neighbors' kids prepare for the police entrance exam and chatted with other residents on his block about home repairs and photography.

GUN CHARGES

After a psychiatric evaluation yesterday at Staten Island University Hospital, cops charged Lau with killing Vitale. It was instigated by Lau's tailgating and ended with the fatal shooting of Vitale in front of a Chinese takeout shop on Richmond Hill Road, police said.

Lau also was accused of the attempted murder of Vitale's 50-year-old wife, Karen, criminal possession of a weapon, criminal use of a firearm and reckless endangerment, cops said. He was expected to be arraigned this morning in Stapleton Criminal Court.

"I've never seen him get angry. He's always been even-tempered," said neighbor Lisa Collette.

As she ticked off anecdotes supporting Lau's good character -- like the time he took a picture of her husband and son shoveling snow and framed it as a Christmas present, or when he offered to help her two sons prepare for the police exam last week -- she also wondered why she heard several loud bangs coming from his house over the past few days.

"He was very mellow, very mild-mannered," said Staten Island resident Dave Russell, who knew Lau a few years ago from Gateway Cathedral in Richmond Valley. "For him to do something like this, he had to have snapped."

Sources had said Lau fired 17 bullets from his gun during the shooting, which is under investigation.

Vitale, a 55-year-old retired officer, was awarded a Medal of Valor for pulling victims from the rubble of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

He most recently worked as the director of operations for the K-9 division at GSS Security Services in midtown Manhattan, where colleagues yesterday were distraught over his death.

1991 SHOOTING

For the most part, Lau, who retired from the 17th Precinct in Manhattan last year after two decades with the NYPD, had an "unexciting" career, a police source said.

He saw little action on the streets, making a total of 20 arrests in his 20 years on the force, a cop source said.

But in May 1991, he shot and killed a suspect who was burglarizing a business near the 17th Precinct stationhouse, according to a cop source. Police deemed it a justified shooting, the source said.

Vitale, the father of three daughters, was driving home from Atlantic City with his wife and black Labrador retriever, Philly, and was going to make a stop to pick up Chinese food.

Lau, the divorced father of two teen-age girls who live with his ex-wife in Manhattan, was apparently enraged as he drove behind Vitale.

Lau's wife shunned reporters yesterday. Vitale's wife sent her brother outside to speak with reporters.

"She's pretty out of it. She was almost killed herself last night," said Brian Eilerman, adding that his sister was "beyond shock."

Eilerman spoke in glowing terms of Vitale, often referring to him as a brother instead of a brother-in-law.

He had scathing words for Lau.

"My personal feeling is he should be served the death penalty if he's convicted," he said.

A day after the shooting took place at the Kenbar Plaza strip mall, the scene of the crime was fairly quiet.

A uniformed police officer from the Mid-Island's 122nd Precinct stood outside a liquor store, but other than her presence, shop owners described yesterday as typical.

Except for David Asovski, owner of Payless Glatt Kosher Meats: Two of his windows were shot out during the rampage and were covered in plywood yesterday as patrons bought Passover meats and other groceries.

"I couldn't open till 1 p.m.," Asovski said. "I lost a lot of business."

Gun laws are same for police officers

According to the Police Department, gun laws are no different for retired cops than they are for civilians. A permit is required before anyone can legally purchase a handgun, rifle or shotgun. Otherwise, there is no limit on how many firearms a gun owner can legally have at one time. "Some people have an arsenal in their house," a police spokesman said.
 


A husband, a dad, a best friend... those will be their memories

Slain officer's grieving wife talks about the strength he offered
Friday, April 14, 2006
By SALLY GOLDENBERG

STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE

Those who knew Steven Vitale felt protected in his company.

It didn't hurt that he was a retired cop, a Vietnam veteran and a black belt in jujitsu

But even when he wasn't in uniform, Mr. Vitale displayed a calm and fearless attitude in every crisis he faced, from a late-night phone call from his stranded teen daughter when her car was towed, to the PATH train that was engulfed in flames when he charged in to rescue the passengers 24 years ago.

The life of a man who devoted many of his 55 years to protecting those around him came to a staggering halt Monday night when a retired NYPD officer allegedly shot him to death.

Now, as his accused killer, 46-year-old Allen Lau, is awaiting arraignment, Mr. Vitale's family is greeting a continuous stream of visitors to its New Springville home, flipping through old family photos and reminiscing about holidays and family vacations.

"I've always felt protected and cherished. If anybody had a knight in shining armor, I did," his wife, Karen, 50, said.

Mrs. Vitale was composed as she shared funny, poignant and personal stories about her husband. Although he had always protected her, he had no opportunity to act Monday night, when shots were fired at them outside a Chinese takeout shop in New Springville. The Vitales were returning from a weekend in Atlantic City, where they were celebrating their 19th wedding anniversary with two other couples.

"I think that if anybody could have the marriage that I had," she said, pausing as she cried openly, "they would be blessed. He was my best friend."

FAMILY MAN

"He was the type of person who would do anything for anybody, at any time, without ever having to be asked," his wife said, as she sat with Mr. Vitale's three daughters from a previous marriage and his sister. His relatives passed tissues around the room and held each other as they talked about Mr. Vitale.

When her husband was undergoing open heart surgery 15 years ago, Mr. Vitale never left her side in the hospital, said his sister, Veronica Lech.

"My brother was my rock," said Mrs. Lech, who lives in New Jersey. "Through the whole thing, my brother was my rock. He sat there with me. He held me. He cried with me. He was there for all the procedures, without imposing."

During a family vacation to the Poconos almost 20 years ago, when a news report about a wild tiger in the area frightened his daughters and niece, Mr. Vitale worked his magic.

To make them feel better -- and inject some humor into a vacation that was being ruined by a series of mishaps -- he told his girls that he would leave an apple on the porch to entice the tiger. If a bite of the fruit was taken by the next morning, he reasoned, then the wild cat had come and gone and they were safe. The next morning, he secretly went outside and bit the apple himself, to allay their fears.

Never one to miss an opportunity for a little comic relief, Mr. Vitale then stood under his daughters' window and roared, Mrs. Vitale recalled, laughing through her tears.

When his daughter, Dawn Marie Vitale, 27, then a teen-ager, was stranded in Long Island after her car was towed and she was forced to wake her sleeping father in the middle of the night, Mr. Vitale shrugged off his sleep, changed into sweats and drove to the Hamptons to rescue her, his family said.

"My husband would come through hell and high water to protect one of us at any single cost," his wife said.

CHILDHOOD DREAM

Even as a kid growing up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, Mr. Vitale talked about protecting people when he was older. He would play cop games with his friends, acting out imaginary burglaries and hailing the hero policeman.

"He used to talk about wanting to be a policeman all the time. He wanted to help people, take care of people, keep people safe," his sister said.

After he graduated from Windgate High School in Brooklyn in 1967, he joined the U.S. Army and traveled to Vietnam with the Big Red One unit from 1969 until 1970, and then served another year stateside. He left the Army as a specialist fourth class.

As some men his age were dodging the draft, he never hesitated to enlist, his wife said.

"He was passionate about protecting the country that he lived in," Mrs. Vitale said.

And even though he was traumatized by watching friends die in Vietnam, Mr. Vitale still returned from the war with a desire to help others.

He worked at a security job for a few years before joining the Port Authority Police Department in 1973. After two years as a roving patrolman working in airports and tunnels, he was assigned to a PATH station, and eventually was a founding member of the Port Authority's Emergency Services Unit, his wife said.

In 1982, he jumped into a burning PATH train near the Christopher Street station in Manhattan, and with other officers, formed a human chain to save the 200 passengers who were trapped, Mrs. Vitale said. He was awarded a Police Commendation Medal for the rescue. A framed newspaper article about the incident is displayed in his study.

Eleven years later, he was awarded a Medal of Valor for pulling bodies from the rubble of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

And although he retired from the force in 1994, Mr. Vitale put on his gear and headed to Ground Zero to volunteer on Sept. 12, 2001, his wife said. sub RETIREMENT YEARS

Since his retirement, Mr. Vitale had worked a host of security jobs, currently as director of operations for the K-9 division at GSS Security Services in Manhattan.

"He was one of the greatest people ever," the private security company's manager, who declined to give his name, said earlier in the week.

In his leisure time, Mr. Vitale traveled with his wife. The couple took a Caribbean cruise three months ago and enjoyed riding the Harley she bought him for his 51st birthday, she said. He also volunteered with the New Jersey Special Olympics and won the Gold Medal Award.

That too is displayed in his office, among many other plaques.

"My dad did so many amazing things for other people through his work, but the most important thing to him, and he would tell us this, was family," Stefanie Vitale said. "As legendary as he was to the public eye, behind closed doors to his family, he was 100 times more amazing."


Tears, prayers and a special song

Tuesday, April 18, 2006
By SALLY GOLDENBERG

STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE

Billy Joel's "Goodnight My Angel" was intended for happier times: Each of Steven Vitale's three daughters planned to dance with her father to the song at her wedding. Instead, the sisters listened to it as their father's funeral drew to a close.

The young women held each other, their faces painted with anguish, as church singer Nick Williams crooned over a violin and piano.

"Goodnight, my angel, time to close your eyes. .../ I promised I would never leave you/ And you should always know/ Wherever you may go, no matter where you are/ I never will be far away."

Hundreds of mourners filled Our Lady Star of the Sea R.C. Church in Huguenot for the last rites for the New Springville man who saved people from a burning PATH train in 1982 and found the last victim of the 1993 World Trade Center bombings during his career with the Port Authority Police Department. He also served in the U.S. Army, spending a year in Vietnam during the war.

As each of the three adult daughters recited her own letter penned as a eulogy, many in the standing-room-only press of mourners in the T-shaped church wept unashamedly. Children, grown men and uniformed cops dabbed their eyes as Vitale's daughters spoke about his unconditional support during tough times, the love he bestowed upon them and their happy childhood memories.

"I don't want you to look at me with pity," Michelle Vitale, who is 24, told the mourners. "Some people live their whole lives without knowing unconditional love. No matter how ugly I behaved, he always saw my beauty."

In her letter, she described how she lit up when he would pick her up from her mother's house on weekends. She also said that as a kid, she dreamed of being a cop like her dad, whose house is filled with plaques and newspaper clippings from his career.

"All I wanted to do was to be you," she said from the altar, which was adorned with Easter flowers and white candles.

The sisters spoke after close to an hour of prayer and song. Monsignor Jeffrey Conway, who officiated, tried to console the mourners by emphasizing Vitale's eternal life in Christ and playing down his violent death.

The 55-year-old retired cop was fatally shot outside a Chinese restaurant on Richmond Hill Road on April 10 as he picked up dinner with his wife, Karen. The couple was returning home from Atlantic City, where they had celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary

Allen Lau, a 46-year-old ex-police officer from New Springville, was arraigned Saturday on murder and weapons charges in what has alternately been described as road rage or a random act of violence. Authorities also have charged him with firing shots at Vitale's 50-year-old wife.

Vitale died of gunshots to the torso, which injured his major blood vessels, lungs, esophagus and intestines, according to Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for the city medical examiner. She would not disclose how many shots struck Vitale.

With Vitale's life being commemorated yesterday, scores of police officers from the Port Authority and other departments throughout New York and New Jersey turned out in uniform to honor him.

Six Port Authority police officers clad in dress blue carried in his wooden coffin, which was covered with a white, embroidered cloth to symbolize his baptism. They processed to the altar to the strains of "On Eagles' Wings."

At the end of the service, the coffin, now draped in an American flag, was saluted by officers from the Port Authority Police Department's Honor Guard. Rows of uniformed police officers lined the church lawn, and members of the Blue Knights -- a motorcycle club to which Vitale belonged in New Jersey -- filled the cordoned-off block of Amboy Road on their bikes.

About an hour later, at Resurrection Cemetery in Pleasant Plains, two Army soldiers folded the flag from his coffin and handed it to his widow, while bagpipers from the Port Authority played "God Bless America."

One by one, each mourner placed a flower beside the plot of earth where Vitale was buried.

"It was everything that I would've wanted for my husband," Karen Vitale said at the end of the day. "And everything that he deserved."

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