Slain NYPD detective honored with ‘welcome home bridge’

More than five years after an NYPD detective from Riverhead was shot and killed in the line of duty, his impact endures.

Last month, state legislation was passed on two fronts in memory of Det. Brian Simonsen, whose death by friendly fire in 2019 was a devastating blow to everyone around him.

In June, Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio and Senator Anthony Palumbo announced the passage of legislation to rename the Halsey Manor Road overpass on the Long Island Expressway the “NYPD Detective Brian P. Simonsen Memorial Bridge.”

Separately, last month, state legislation that would force phone companies to disable cellphones after they’ve been reported stolen also passed both chambers and is awaiting Gov. Kathy Hochul’s signature. Det. Simonsen was killed while responding to a robbery at cellphone store

“Once these phones are stolen, the company would be obligated to shut down the phone, rendering that phone worthless on the black market,” said newly retired NYPD Detectives Endowment Association president Paul DiGiacomo, who said stolen cellphones go for $400 to $1,000 on the street.

“It would stop robberies, larcenies, burglaries and a host of other crimes that revolve around cellphones in the city of New York and the state. Brian was responding to a robbery of a T-Mobile store that night.”

Around 6 p.m. on Feb. 12, 2019, Jagger Freeman and Christopher Ransom used a fake pistol to hold up a T-Mobile cellphone store in Richmond, Queens.

Mr. Ransom was still inside the store when Det. Simonsen and Sgt. Matthew Gorman, both in plainclothes, arrived on the scene at the same time as uniformed officers. When Mr. Ransom pointed the fake weapon at them, police opened fire on Mr. Ransom — but fatally struck Det. Simonsen in the torso and hit the sergeant in the leg.

Det. Simonsen wasn’t even on duty that night, but was in the city to attend a Drug Enforcement Agency delegates meeting when the robbery occurred.

Mr. Ransom later pleaded guilty to robbery and aggravated manslaughter and is serving 33 years in prison, according to court records. Mr. Freeman went to trial and was convicted of murder, robbery, assault and grand larceny and sentenced to 30 years to life in prison.

Plans to rename the overpass have been in progress for a couple of years.

Ms. Giglio — who for years has sponsored legislation to rename area overpasses and bridges for New York State troopers killed in the line of duty — said last week that once the state Department of Transportation installs the new signage, a ceremony will be held near the bridge.

“It’s fitting that we memorialize our law enforcement who lost their lives through the line of duty, and that we never forget the ultimate sacrifice that not only they made, but that their families make when they miss them every day,” said Ms. Giglio. “Now all the members of the Simonsen Memorial Foundation will be able to pass by this sign that recognizes and thanks Detective Simonsen for his sacrifice.”

His widow, Leanne Simonsen, said the bridge’s location means a lot to her.

“Brian drove [70] miles to Queens every day and home, and it was just kind of the ‘welcome home bridge,’ because [the overpass] is Exit 70 and we are Exit 71.”

In 2019, the late detective’s family, friends and colleagues launched the Detective Brian “Smiles” Simonsen Memorial Foundation, which raises money to support a variety of causes, including scholarships for Riverhead high school students and donations of K-9 bulletproof vests — including one that went to Riverhead Police Department K-9 Onyx. The “Smiles” nickname is a nod to what friends said was Mr. Simonsen’s perpetual good cheer.

The foundation also supports schoolchildren in the Queens community where Mr. Simonsen worked, as well as animal rescue efforts. In 2020, the foundation donated $10,000 to the New York Marine Rescue Center in Riverhead. The foundation raises money through donations and a charity golf outing each summer in Calverton. This year’s tournament is slated for Aug. 16. So far, Ms. Simonsen said, the foundation has raised more than $375,000.

In 2019, South Jamesport Avenue, near the cemetery where he is buried, was designated Det. Brian Simonsen Way.