The Nassau County Police Department, county officials, family and friends gathered for the funeral of Officer Hector M. Nunez on Monday in Lake Ronkonkoma.  Nunez died from COVID-19 on Wednesday.  Credit: Newsday / James Carbone/James Carbone

Nassau County Police Officer Hector Nunez, a 16-year veteran known for his leadership, brilliant smile and love for his family, has died of COVID-19, officials said Sunday.

Nunez, 42, of Centereach, spent his career as a street cop, working in Valley Stream with the Fifth Precinct, officials said.

The father of four was known for "doing the right thing by the community," Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said Sunday in an interview. He stopped to say hello to people on his beat and knew all the area shop owners, Ryder said.

Nunez, who loved his job and baseball, had a positive attitude and a smile that would make everyone around him do the same, police officials said.

"He just brought the best of what policing is," Ryder said.

Nunez joined the force on Nov. 1, 2005, payroll records show. After years on patrol, he also became a field training officer, taking rookies out on the job, training them and always looking out for them, officials said.

He "was loved and respected by all his co-workers," PBA president-elect Thomas Shevlin said, noting "the dangers of our job and how we risk everything for the community we serve."

In March 2019, Nunez was named one of the County Legislature’s "top cops" after rescuing a man trapped inside a burning deli in Valley Stream while responding to a 911 call about a fire. Nunez and two other officers ran into the building after hearing the man’s cries for help — risking their own safety — and pulled him out, officials said.

Nunez knew when to "step it up" and help others, Ryder said. He was also described as genuine and fun-loving.

Ryder said that Nunez's 20-year-old son told him: "when all the kids in the neighborhood came over, he’d treat them like they’re his own" and sometimes take them out for ice cream.

Nunez was hospitalized with the virus on Nov. 5. He died in a hospital on Dec. 8.

He is the third Nassau police officer to die of COVID-19 this year, police officials said. Two, including Nunez, were line-of-duty deaths, while the third officer contracted the virus outside of work.

Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun said officials have not yet traced how exactly Nunez may have contracted the virus. Nassau police officers often interact with COVID-19 patients on the job, including by helping to transport them to hospitals, LeBrun said.

The Nassau police department does not require its officers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and does not track if they are vaccinated.

The virus is the biggest cause of death for police officers nationally over the past two years.

Police officers are required to wear masks if they enter residences and encouraged to get vaccinated and to take time off if they don't feel well, among other precautions, Ryder said.

Nunez is survived by his wife of 22 years, Jesenia, and his four children, ranging in age from 6 to 20, according to officials and records.

Nunez's family was not available to speak to a Newsday reporter Sunday through a police department representative.

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