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A Bronx tale's unhappy ending

An off-duty police officer was killed in gunfight with burglars. Now, an ex-‘Sopranos’ actor faces a murder charge.
Police investigate the crime scene in the Bronx, N.Y., Saturday, Dec. 10, 2005, where off-duty NYPD officer, Daniel Enchautegui, 28, was shot in the chest before dawn.
Police investigate the crime scene in the Bronx, N.Y., Saturday, Dec. 10, 2005, where off-duty NYPD officer, Daniel Enchautegui, 28, was shot in the chest before dawn.John Marshall Mantel / AP

In the movie "A Bronx Tale," Robert De Niro begs his son, played by Lillo Brancato, to stay out of trouble.

As it turns out, it's advice the actor could have used as well. In a real-life twist that's sadly ironic, Brancato is about to be charged with murder, for allegedly participating in a Bronx shootout Saturday that took the life of a young New York City police officer.

Police say officer Daniel Enchautegui, a patrolman on the force for three years, was at his home when, around five in the morning, he heard the sounds of glass breaking next door. He called 911 to report the suspected burglary, then went outside himself, service weapon in hand, to investigate.  Someone heard the officer shouting — then a furious exchange of gunfire. The officer managed to hit two fleeing men  several times despite being shot in the chest, a wound that would prove fatal.

When police arrived, they found the two suspects: 48-year-old Steven Armento, the alleged gunman, along with the actor Brancato, both shot numerous times by the officer.

Sunday in New York, tears for the fallen officer, hailed as a hero.  It's the second recent blow for New York's Police Department, which lost another officer less than 2 weeks ago.  Officer Enchautegui attended that funeral, now, he is being mourned — as a man who even off-duty didn't hesitate to risk his life.   

And amid the grief there are questions about how a promising young actor, who once starred in a major Hollywood movie, ended up in the middle of the tragedy which happened here.

It was a stunning turn for Brancato, whose career began in 1993, when he was just 17. He was spotted by a casting agent who noticed his likeness to a young Robert De Niro. For the unknown who had a knack for wise guy talk, being in “A Bronx Tale” was a dream come true.

Michael Musto, a writer for New York's Village Voice newspaper, met Brancato right after his first big movie.

Michael Musto, Village Voice writer: He was plucked from obscurity. He was basically spotted swimming in Jones Beach.  And that old Lana Turner, "We're going to make you a star" cliche became a reality for him. 

It's a bit much for anybody of that age. Suddenly, you're thrust into all new opportunities, all new parties, and limousines, and a whole scene that you're not used to and it's head spinning.

More movies followed, as the young submariner who fixes the radio in “Crimson Tide.”

And then, in 2000 came the stint on the hugely popular series, "The Sopranos."

Musto: It's very easy now to look back and say oh , of course he would end up in trouble. There really were no hints of that.

No hints, until last June that is, when Brancato, who was living with his adoptive parents in Yonkers was arrested after police say they found him with a controlled substance.

While Brancato found himself on the wrong end of the law, another young man was making his way up as a police officer.  28-year-old Daniel Enchautegui, who'd wanted to be a cop for a long time, was assigned a tough beat, a precinct in the south Bronx.

Enchautegui, who was single, lived with his parents until two years ago, when he moved into this basement apartment in a place neighbors say was quiet and peaceful — until Saturday morning's bloody shootout.

He was an outstanding officer, says his boss...

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly:  He took action, and that's what police officers do. It's in the DNA.

…and a wonderful brother, says his sister.

Rosa, sister: Coming to my house and spending time with my kids. He was the best uncle in the world.

A man whose life brutally collided with that of a young actor in a real-life Bronx tale — one that has left the officer's parents mourning the loss of their only beloved son, one of New York's finest.