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Shooter of fire chief sentenced

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Brown cited revenge as the motive for Andrew Benzaia, 57, of 168-18 69th Ave. in Fresh Meadows, to pump five bullets into the face of the then soon-to-be retired fire battalion chief, who worked out of Long Island City.

Benzaia avoided a trial in the shooting of Lawrence Schwemmer, who lived in New Hyde Park, by pleading guilty on Oct. 27 to attempted murder and assault, said Betsy Herzog of the Queens district attorney's office. Benzaia was sentenced to 17 1/2 years in prison, the DA said Nov. 29.

Schwemmer, 54, was only a few weeks away from retirement when he was shot. The fire chief lost an eye, suffered the partial loss of vision in the other and other unspecified injuries, according to the district attorney's office.

The city Fire Department has repeatedly denied requests for information on Schwemmer's condition since the shooting.

Brown said "we believe that the defendant shot Chief Schwemmer out of revenge."

Benzaia's feelings of revenge toward Schwemmer apparently began after the fire chief confronted the Fresh Meadows man for harassing another gym member, the Queens DA's office said.

On July 20, 1999 at about 6 a.m. Schwemmer parked his car in front of the Bally's gym at 254-24 Horace Harding Expressway and was about to go inside when he was approached by Benzaia, Brown said.

Benzaia fired five bullets into Schwemmer's head from a .25 caliber handgun before fleeing the scene, the DA said. He was arrested later that day and police at the time said he had confessed to the crime.

"In other words," he said "Chief Schwemmer was almost killed trying to assist another person."

Posted 7:16 pm, October 10, 2011
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