Sands Point Police Sgt. Joseph Spinosa died April 15 after contracting...

Sands Point Police Sgt. Joseph Spinosa died April 15 after contracting COVID-19, police said. Credit: Sands Point Police Department

A veteran Sands Point police sergeant has died after contracting COVID-19, becoming the first known Long Island police officer to succumb to the virus, the police department announced Thursday.

Sgt. Joseph Spinosa, of Hicksville, died Wednesday at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola after testing positive about two weeks earlier for both the coronavirus and pneumonia, said Sands Point Police Chief Thomas Ruehle. He was 52. 

"Everybody loved Joe," Ruehle said Thursday, reflecting on his colleague. "He was just excellent. He was extremely squared away. He knew all this stuff. He knew what he was doing, very level-headed and always made the right decisions. It will be impossible to replace him." 

Ruehle said it's unclear how Spinosa contracted the novel coronavirus, but his passing will be counted as a line-of-duty death, the first in the 100-year-history of the department, which has 20 officers. With Spinosa's passing, now there are just 19. 

Spinosa is believed to be the first Long Island police officer to die after contracting the coronavirus, Ruehle said. 

"I’m pretty certain that this is the first Long Island law enforcement agency to lose a member due to this disease, and I hope we’re the last," he said. 

Spinosa last worked a shift on March 27. That weekend, Ruehle said, they spoke and Spinosa said he wasn't feeling well and had a fever. After consulting with the department's police surgeon, he went to Winthrop in Mineola for treatment on March 31 and tested positive the next day for both COVID-19 and pneumonia, Ruehle said.

"He was placed on a ventilator and unfortunately he never came off," said Ruehle. 

“He loved being a cop,” said his mother, Carol Spinosa, 77, of Hicksville, who lived with her son. “He liked people. He was a people person. He liked helping people.”

She said her son graduated from Hicksville High School and also received a degree from the New York Institute of Technology.

Spinosa’s father, also named Joseph Spinosa, was an NYPD officer. He died in 2018, she said.

“He was a great son; he is a great son,” Carol Spinosa said. “And I’m a very proud mother. And many, many people who knew him loved him greatly.”

Spinosa was hired on September 19, 2000 at the Sands Point Police Department, and had received the Nassau County Municipal Police Chief's Officer of the Year award in 2008, Ruehle said. He was promoted to sergeant in 2018. 

He also received the police department's Life Saving Award in 2015. “His actions rescitated a non-breathing child,” Ruehle said. “The child would have passed if not for whatever actions he took."

Described as a "big teddy bear," Spinosa was funny and witty and "loved busting chops," said Ruehle. 

"That’s what we’re going to miss the most," he said. 

The small department is a tight-knit group, Ruehle said, and there are frequent get-togethers. 

"He was the deparment barbecue grill master," Ruehle said. "If we had a bbq, you weren't getting the spatula out of Joe’s hands. He was in charge."

Spinosa was not married and had no children.

He loved to hunt deer upstate with his father. And he owned a condo in Florida, where he visited often and planned to retire to. 

Ruehle said he and about a dozen other Sands Point officers went to Spinosa's home Thursday morning and brought his mother flowers. 

"She came out from a distance," he recalled. "We all wanted to give her a hug and a kiss, but we can’t, and it’s breaking my heart. It's just a surreal time; it's like a bad horror movie." 

Peter Forman, the chief police commissioner, said in a statement: “Sgt. Spinosa was a beloved and esteemed senior member of our department. I know I speak for many of the residents when I say that he will be missed dearly.”

Funeral plans are pending. 

On Thursday morning during the 11 a.m. shift change, the department's officers gathered in a final tribute to their fallen brother. The desk sergeant on duty called for Spinosa, shield number 119, over the police radio, marking the fallen sergeant's final radio transmission. 

"It's a nice little tribute," said Ruehle. "So it will always be in the permanent record of this department that this was his last day with us." 

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