Friend backs driver in fatal patrol car crash

A Nassau County Highway Patrol officer died of A Nassau County Highway Patrol officer died of injuries suffered when his police car was hit from behind during a traffic stop on the Long Island Expressway at Exit 39. (Feb. 5, 2011)

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A friend and former co-worker of the truck driver who police say was responsible for the death of a Nassau police officer over the weekend came to the trucker's defense Sunday.

"It came as a real shock to us out here," said Jim Wieleba, 21, of Wethersfield, Conn., who said he had worked with John Kaley at a Hartford towing company. "He's been a good driver, a good friend. He's not the type they're painting him to be."

Nassau police said Kaley, 25, of New Britain, Conn., was driving west on the Long Island Expressway Friday night in a flatbed truck with his fiancee, Elizabeth Berdan, when he fell asleep at the wheel. His truck swerved out of the traffic lanes and hit the back of Nassau police officer Michael J. Califano's vehicle, authorities said. Califano, who was in his cruiser on the striped pavement for a traffic stop at Exit 39N, was pronounced dead at 12:30 a.m. Saturday.

Kaley, who sustained minor injuries, has been charged with criminally negligent homicide, three counts of misdemeanor assault, and with violating a new state law requiring vehicles to slow down and, if possible, move away from emergency vehicles stopped on the side of the road with lights flashing. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment and was held without bail.

Wieleba said he doesn't believe Kaley drove while exhausted. "I don't think he fell asleep - he's not the type who would drive as recklessly as that. He's a very careful driver," he said. "He wouldn't have put him or his fiancee in that kind of danger."

Berdan, who also sustained minor injuries, declined to comment Sunday, as did a person who answered the phone at A&N Auto Service, the Connecticut company whose name was on the flatbed truck Kaley drove.

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Connecticut state records show Kaley was found guilty in January 2010 of a reckless driving charge after a July 2009 arrest in West Hartford, and was fined $100. Nassau police also said Kaley was cited in January and February 2010 for reckless driving, but they didn't know whether he had been convicted.

Wieleba said the reckless driving charges were related to car owners who interfered as Kaley repossessed their cars.

Kaley is to appear in court again tomorrow.

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