Kalyanarat Ranasinghe, who was in uniform, was declared dead at the scene after he was struck about 2:30 p.m. by the vacuum truck, police and fire officials said. It wasn't immediately clear what Ranasinghe was doing when he was hit, although his primary duty as a level-two agent was to direct traffic.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told reporters at the scene that the agent's death was "gut-wrenching."
"These people don't make a lot of money, but they're out there in the middle of some heavy traffic, worst possible weather, day and night," he said. "So it's a dangerous job. But, unfortunately, things like this can sometimes happen."
Antonio Trinidad, a doorman who saw the truck hit Ranasinghe, described it as "a freak accident."
"The guy got clipped by the truck, and he got rolled up under the tire," Trinidad told the New York Daily News.
Vacuum trucks are typically used to clean sewers or suck up business waste.
The 43-year-old driver, who remained at the scene, has not been charged and the investigation is continuing, police said. Shortly afterward, his truck was struck by a coach bus trying to park in front of the truck. The 25-year-old man driving the coach bus also remained at the scene. Neither driver was injured.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a statement praising traffic enforcement agents and offered his thoughts and prayers to the Ranasinghe family.
Traffic enforcement agents issue summonses to illegally parked cars, direct traffic at intersections and perform other traffic related tasks. Ranasinghe's took pride in his job, his son-in-law said.
"He enjoyed it a lot, helping people," said Dananjaya Waragoda, 40. "Some people asked for directions; some asked for help ... He loved his job."
Waragoda said his father-in-law emigrated from Sri Lanka about 20 years ago and worked as a telecommunications engineer in Dubai and in New York before becoming a traffic enforcement agent almost seven years ago. He said Ranasinghe had been married for over 50 years and had one daughter.
"He was a great man, always helping to anybody," said Waragoda in a telephone interview from Ranasinghe's home in the Bronx. "Whether you were a relation or not, it didn't matter to him."
Representatives from CWA Local 1182, the union that represents the agents, didn't immediately return a message seeking comment. The holiday weekend is often one of the busiest times of years for traffic enforcement agents. In 2008, a traffic enforcement agent who was seven-months pregnant was hit by two cars in the Bronx and killed. Doctors were able to deliver her son but he died eight days later.