Nassau County police and family members said goodbye to the gentle giant detective they knew as "Easy E" with the big smile, who died of a 9/11-related cancer 20 years after responding to Ground Zero.
Erick Contreras, 53, was laid to rest Saturday following a decorated police funeral with hundreds of officers at First Baptist Cathedral of Westbury.
Braving bitter cold, uniformed officers lined up outside the church with a pipe band and mounted officers on horseback for a detective processional as Contreras, who grew up in Uniondale, was posthumously promoted to detective first-grade, the department’s highest honor for detectives that has only other 15 other members.
Officers saluted as his coffin was taken out of the church while a trumpeter played taps, bagpipers played "Amazing Grace" and five police helicopters flew over the church.
"In the hours and days after September 11th, Erick didn’t think twice about responding to the World Trade Center. Like many first responders, heroes like Erick run into danger while others run away," said Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder. "It’s hard to imagine after the unthinkable number of people who died that horrific day, we'd still be losing people 20 years later. But we are, and Erick was one of those first responders who suffered and others are still suffering today."
Ryder said Contreras did not miss a day of work until he was hospitalized in December. Contreras is Nassau's 41st line-of-duty death and the seventh from 9/11-related illnesses, Ryder told about 50 masked visitors in the church, including County Executive Laura Curran and District Attorney Madeline Singas.
"During the time we may have to limit occupancy here, but we'll need many months and years to contain our grief in these pews," said Nassau County Chief of Detectives Keechant Sewell. "Beyond these walls and in our hearts. Erick's memory will always be with us, just as we will always be with you."
Sewell said Contreras "was unfailingly a gentleman," whether he was offering comfort to crime victims or placing someone under arrest.
"His optimism was maddening and searching for the bright side," Sewell said. "In answering every call to serve even in the darkness we’re summoned to see, the bleakness we are forced to witness, that is what compelled him to lower Manhattan almost 20 years ago."
Family members, including Contreras’ two retired police officer brothers, described his intelligence, his sense of humor, his kind nature and love of travel, nature and generosity for people.
"We love you and miss you, but the angels have you now," his brother Anthony Contreras said. "You made a great impact on this Earth. Sleep well my brother until we meet again."