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Passenger on joyride dies when drunken fired NYPD cop flips sports car (EXCLUSIVE)

Pablo Rivera Jr. died with a smile on his face during a spontaneous joyride in a powerful sports car driven by a recently-fired NYPD cop now accused of drunkenly crashing, the victim’s mourning friends believe.

“I’m just glad he was happy in his last moments,” longtime friend Emmanuel Gomez said of 22-year-old victim Rivera, known to loved ones as “PJ.”

“We were just laughing, dancing. He was really happy.”

Driver Aaron Cooper was fired from the NYPD last year, two years after being arrested for pulling his gun during an off-duty clash with a stranger over parking in Queens.

Cooper, 26, is now charged with manslaughter for the Feb. 10 crash. His yellow 2023 Toyota Supra flipped over after he veered into an oncoming lane in Valley Stream, L.I., and struck the curb and a pole. The former cop’s blood alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit when he crashed, according to court papers.

For his passenger, the night began joyfully with an outing with friends before crossing paths with Cooper.

“We drove to Long Island City. We sat by the water,” Gomez, 22, said. “We were just having a good time.”

As they drove back towards home on Long Island, a friend with them in the car got on the phone with Cooper, Gomez said.

“[Cooper] has a nice car and you can hear [the engine] through the phone,” Gomez explained. “Pablo was a car person. He absolutely loves cars. So when he heard a nice engine he couldn’t stay away from it. He was really interested in it. He mentioned how he might be interested in getting in the car and I thought he was joking.”

“At one point [Rivera] said, ‘You got to take me on a ride one of these days, bro,’” Gomez added.

Later in the night, that ended up happening.

The group dropped Gomez at home around 4:15 a.m. and he went to sleep. Just a short time later, Rivera got into Cooper’s high-performance car.

“[Rivera] was probably like, ‘Drive me up and down my street!’ I could see him hyping it up,” said another longtime friend, Craig Powell Jr. “I can just see him in the car, hands up and everything. It’s like the devil trapped him.”

Cooper admitted he had been drinking when he crossed the double yellow line on Rosedale Road near Lawrence Court in Valley Stream and hit a curb and pole about 4:30 a.m., prosecutors said. He was speeding and the car flipped over from the impact.

The ex-cop, who lives in Lindenhurst, was treated for minor injuries at a local hospital. Rivera, who was just two blocks from home when they crashed, died at the scene.

“I know he died with a smile on his face,” Powell, 23, said of Rivera. “It’s not in vain. He died happy.”

Friends recalled Rivera’s worried mother asking around about her son Saturday morning, saying he never came home the night before.

“I was really nervous because I was just with him less than five hours ago,” Gomez said. “What do you mean he’s not here?”

Powell also heard from the victim’s mom.

“His mom told me there was a car accident a couple blocks down and the car was totally messed up — but she didn’t know her son was in the car,” Powell said.

Gomez didn’t know his friend was in the crash but went to check out the scene, overcome with the feeling “something was wrong,” he said.

“Everybody was just scared,” Gomez said of the confused friends and neighbors who gathered at the scene. “Then this detective in a suit came to us, breaks the news. And it was torture from there.”

Rivera’s longtime girlfriend, two younger brothers, parents and friends are all still reeling from the shock.

“He was one of the most selfless, loyal people I know,” said Powell, who considered Rivera like a brother. “He always put everyone before himself.”

Other friends agreed.

“Pablo has this innocence to him, where it’s kind of like a childish giddiness where he’s always just living in the moment,” Gomez said. “That’s all he’s thinking about, is fun.”

The friends said Rivera was working towards becoming an aeronautical engineer, a profession he hoped would combine his love for travel and mechanics.

“He loved building stuff. He was a very big car person. Airplanes are like bigger cars. He was excited about that,” Gomez said. “He wanted to take advantage of the free flights. He would always say, ‘We’re gonna go to Mexico, free!'”

More than 200 mourners filled the pews inside Holy Name of Mary Church in Valley Stream for Rivera’s funeral service Friday morning.

Rivera was buried at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, where the bereaved overflowed a chapel to pray. Loved ones placed red and white roses into two vases on opposite ends of Rivera’s casket before saying their final goodbyes. The closed casket was covered in a beige cloth draped with a red floral-patterned sash.

Cooper had a blood alcohol level of 0.15, according to court papers. In addition to manslaughter, he is charged with vehicular manslaughter and DWI. He is being held without bail and is due back in Nassau County Criminal Court March 1. His lawyer, Richard Hochhauser, declined to comment on the case.

“I give God my vengeance,” Powell said of the driver. “I’ll let God decide. He hurt a lot of people. [Rivera’s] brothers have to live without an older brother. His mom has to live without a son. His dad has to live without a son.”

Cooper made headlines when he was arrested in Queens in July 2021 for weapon possession, criminal mischief and harassment after pulling his gun during an off-duty argument with a stranger.

He pleaded guilty to criminal mischief and a judge conditionally discharged him the day after the 2021 incident, according to Queens prosecutors. An NYPD source said Cooper was fired last year.

Victim Devon Ridge told the Daily News Cooper went berserk when he thought Ridge moved his parked 2002 Jaguar too close to Cooper’s vehicle. Ridge was trying to get distance from a hydrant to avoid a ticket.

Cooper slashed his tire, according to Ridge, then 56, and threatened to blow up another car Ridge owns.

“I’m going to blow up your X6 and your house,” Cooper screamed, referring to Ridge’s BMW X6 parked in the driveway of Ridge’s home on 154th St. in Springfield Gardens, officials said at the time.

Cooper was accused of pulling his gun, keeping it at his side as he threatened Ridge without ever pointing it at him.

“He could have shot me that day,” Ridge told the Daily News this week. “I guess [my car] must have touched his car’s bumper and this man went berserk and flattened my tire … Just for a little bump to his car, and then have a handgun and wanting to fight and carrying on and stuff like that. It was just outrageous.

“Look what he ended up doing,” Ridge said of the fatal crash. “He got to probably have a mental problem for him to go out and do that.”

With Sheetal Banchariya, Rocco Parascandola, Thomas Tracy and Colin Mixson