The entirety of 86th Street between Dahlgren Place and Seventh Avenue was closed to traffic the morning of Saturday, October 21 as family and community members alike came together to memorialize a Bay Ridge hero.
That morning, the northwest corner of Seventh Avenue and 86th Street was co-named “Patrolman David Guttenberg Way” in memory of the 68th Precinct officer who, nearly 40 years ago, died protecting it.
David Guttenberg – who, after service in the army and time as a U.S. postal officer was called to enter the Police Academy and eventually serve the 68th Precinct – was gunned down on December 28, 1978, after entering an auto parts store with the intention of finding the owner of a near-by double-parked car (so as not to issue it a ticket during the holidays) and stumbled upon a robbery in progress.
As soon as he entered what was then the Dyker Auto Supply Shop, near the corner of Seventh Avenue and 86th Street, Guttenberg was shot three times in the chest and heart.
He died just a couple of blocks away from the crime scene, at the old Victory Memorial Hospital, in the arms of his wife, Barbara. The shooter and his look-out were both convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, with the gunman eventually dying in confinement and his partner being paroled in July of 2014.
Guttenberg was just 49 years old – 18 of those spent serving the New York City Police Department – and left behind four children.
Councilmember Vincent Gentile – whose staff helped put the ceremony together – lauded Guttenberg for heroic efforts, he told the crowd, extended far beyond his last day on earth.
“David once drove a neighbor’s sick mother to Maimonides Hospital in a blinding snowstorm, a ride that took more than two hours but, with the help of David, she got there,” he said. “Family couldn’t get her there. Car service couldn’t get her there. Even the ambulance couldn’t get her there. But David Guttenberg got her there.
“For every tour of duty, Patrolman David Guttenberg was there for us,” he went on. “May this sign remind us of that, remind us of his goodness, remind us of his service, and remind us of the brave service of all members of the New York City Police Department.”
State Senator Marty Golden, a former police officer himself, said the co-naming was “a long time coming.”
“David embodied what it means to be a police officer and to serve this great city,” he said. “He bravely patrolled these streets and put himself in danger for the safety of others. Because of that, you have no idea how many lives he saved.”
Auxiliary Police Officer Christian Durante, who submitted the street-naming application with support from the fallen officer’s family, was lauded at the Saturday street co-naming for his efforts to honor the fallen officer.
The 28-year-old, who was born long after Guttenberg’s death, told this paper that, since first seeing the memorial for Guttenberg that hangs inside the 68th Precinct, he has lived each day inspired by the officer’s legacy.
“I just felt an instant connection to him,” he told this paper earlier this year, stressing that, in researching the incident, he was able to uncover “the officer outside the uniform,” and really understand Guttenberg as a man of love and, similar to the neighborhood he died serving, “that sense of community that brings people together.”
That sense of community, Durante said, was ever-present Saturday.
“It was such a beautiful day,” he said. “It was a day that brought the entire community together.”
Among those, local elected officials, a sea of uniformed police officers from around the city and NYPD Assistant Chief Steven Powers, commanding officer of Patrol Borough Brooklyn South. Even more special, Durante stressed, was the presence of retired cops who once served with Guttenberg, as well as the attendance of Rabbi Alvin Kass, the chief chaplain of the New York City Police Department, whose wife died the night before the ceremony.
Also significant, Durante said, was an appearance by Tino Collura, the owner of the auto supply store who had a gun to his head when Guttenberg arrived at the scene and who, until Saturday, hadn’t spoken about that fateful day in decades.
“For him to come and talk to the children was so touching,” Durante told this paper. “David saved his life.”
Guttenberg is the only officer from the 68th Precinct – first established in 1973 – to have died in the line of duty. He is the third officer to have died patrolling Bay Ridge, as two prior were killed serving the neighborhood’s former 64th Precinct.
“Our hearts are full knowing that he has not been forgotten 39 years after his death,” said Guttenberg’s daughter Amy Guttenberg-Windsor, who was just 12 years old when her father died. “It is our hope that the co-naming of this corner in my father’s honor will give the people of this community an opportunity to understand the person that he was and to keep his memory alive.”
Guttenberg died just three years after becoming a member of the 68 in 1975.
“I was a police officer when David was shot and killed right here on this very street,” Golden said. “It was sad then and it’s sad now.”