When Sands Point Police Sgt. Joseph Spinosa got together with his cop buddies outside of work, it was almost always around a meal, preferably a thick porterhouse steak on the grill.
"He loved food; he was a foodie," said Officer James Schenker, a colleague and friend. "He loved to barbecue. He was happiest when me … and some of the other guys could get together and eat."
Spinosa, 52, of Hicksville, was known as the department’s “grill master.” His "cherry cola pork chops" were "outstanding," said Sgt. Brian Meadows, another colleague and friend, but the exact recipe was a heavily guarded secret.
“You couldn’t get near the grill. He was in charge,” Meadows said.
His favorite cuisine?
"Anything meat," Schenker said with a chuckle. "Steak, sausage, ribs, pork chops."
Spinosa, a 20-year-veteran of the Sands Point Police Department, died April 15 at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola after testing positive on April 1 for coronavirus and pneumonia, according to Sands Point Police Chief Thomas Ruehle, who said Spinosa was believed to be the first police officer on Long Island to die from the virus.
His on-the-job friends remembered Spinosa as a gentle giant and a level-headed officer.
“He was a big, imposing guy," said Officer Steve Cancellarich, another friend and co-worker. "But the big thing with Joe was he was a really nice, big teddy bear. Everybody loved him. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body.”
“In a funny way, Joe would hate all the attention he’s getting; he was just a very quiet, private person,” Schenker said.
A graduate of Hicksville High School and the New York Institute of Technology, Spinosa followed his NYPD officer father into law enforcement.
"He wanted to go to the city police, but we sort of talked him out of it. It was safer on Long Island than in the city," said Spinosa's mother, Carol Spinosa, 77, of Hicksville, referring to their conversations with her son and late husband. Spinosa had an older brother who died.
Spinosa and his father, who died in 2018 shortly after the son was promoted to sergeant in Sands Point, were close.
"He loved to hunt and he loved to fish. They used to go upstate together in Columbia County," Carol Spinosa said. "They had a little place up there that they used to go to."
A caretaker to both his parents in their later years, Spinosa put his family first. He was excited about eventually retiring to Florida, where he had a condo in the same complex as a high school friend.
“He was just an honest, true, good person,” Meadows said. “As hard as it was losing him as a co-worker, it’s even harder losing him as a friend.”