A Suffolk police officer, surrounded and supported by his peers and bosses, watched with satisfaction Thursday as the man who ran him over and nearly killed him was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Afterward, Nicholas Guerrero -- promoted to detective since the Sept. 22 confrontation -- spoke of his determination to return to work for a police department he loves.
"I feel blessed to have such support," Guerrero, 36, said. "I'm so fortunate to be working for such a fantastic department."
Guerrero was working in plain clothes last year when he and his partner Heriberto Lugo pulled over Chad Morizsan, 35, who was driving a stolen Ford Explorer in Huntington. Morizsan took off, hitting Guerrero and leaving him in the street with a broken skull, broken ribs, a collapsed lung and other injuries. Lugo also was struck but was treated briefly for minor injuries at a hospital and released the same day.
Morizsan and a passenger in the car, Nicholas Franzone, 23, of East Northport, were arrested later that day. But first he stole gas, hit a car at the gas station, abandoned the stolen Explorer, carjacked a Toyota from an 87-year-old woman and bought a television at Target with her credit card. The two were arrested there when they decided to take it back because they wanted a bigger television, prosecutors said.
Franzone is awaiting trial.
Morizsan pleaded guilty last month to first-degree assault, assault of a police officer, robbery, grand larceny and other charges.
Guerrero, whose scar from his craniectomy curls from above his right ear around the back and over the top of his head, said he is getting physical and occupational therapy. He had to learn how to speak again, but still struggles with balance, memory and headaches. "There are good days and there are bad days," he said.
But he said he has no doubt he will return to the force and hopes it's soon. And he said the experience will make him both a better man and a better officer.
"I appreciate life" more than ever now, he said. "Just to be able to stand and talk to you. I'll be there even more to protect the public."
Earlier in court, Assistant District Attorney Carl Borelli told state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho there was no excuse for Morizsan's actions, which began two days earlier when he and Franzone stole the Explorer from a woman preparing for her wedding.
"Frankly, it boggles the mind that this actually occurred," Borelli said. "He basically went on a reign of terror."
Morizsan declined to speak in court, but his attorney, Daniel Guttman of Smithtown, said his client did regret it.
"It was never his intent to hurt the officer," Guttman said. "He fled because he got scared."
Camacho said Guerrero and all officers deserve society's thanks.
"They put themselves between us, citizens, and those who mean us harm," Camacho said.
Camacho said he prayed for Guerrero's full recovery and said it will be "a proud day, a happy day, when he gets back to duty."
Camacho said Guerrero's character stood in contrast to Morizsan's "two-day spree of violence and greed, fueled by a $100-a-day drug habit." He then addressed Morizsan.
"How dare you," Camacho said. "For that, there must be a steep price."
Afterward, District Attorney Thomas Spota expressed scorn for Morizsan. He dismissed the claim that he didn't intend to hurt Guerrero as "pure nonsense."
Spota praised the sentence and Camacho's words, warning that anyone who would hurt a police officer in Suffolk County will "pay the maximum penalty."