Friends defend driver in fatal cop crash

John Kaley, who police say fell asleep while

John Kaley, who police say fell asleep while driving on the LIE before he struck and killed a police officer, leaves Nassau County Courthouse, Tuesday, in Mineola. (Feb. 8, 2011) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

John Kaley, the truck driver charged in the death of a Nassau County police officer in a crash on the Long Island Expressway, has a history of run-ins with people whose cars he towed as part of his job, records show.

But friends and co-workers describe Kaley as a safe driver.

Damien Little - Kaley's former roommate and co-worker at three tow companies - said he doesn't think Kaley would drive recklessly.

"I've known him all his towing life and everything with him is secure and cautious," said Little, of Wethersfield, Conn.

Records show that one incident led to a misdemeanor charge of reckless driving after Kaley's tow truck boom accidentally struck a man's leg in West Hartford in July 2009, according to police reports. Kaley did towing and repossession work.

Kaley had backed up to tow the man's car as he rushed to claim it. A police report said tire tracks indicated Kaley was driving fast. "It's our job to get the car before they [the owners] get there," Kaley told a police officer.

Kaley pleaded no contest to one count of reckless driving and one count of unsafe backing, both misdemeanors, in January 2010 in Superior Court in Hartford and paid a $100 fine.

Connecticut police had to mediate a February 2010 conflict between Kaley and a woman after Kaley tried to tow her friend's pickup truck from a West Hartford apartment complex. The friend was helping the woman move in and did not have a parking permit. She said Kaley towed the truck full of her furniture when she stepped away briefly. Kaley said she screamed at him and took a set of keys from his truck.

Kaley's friends said that after his daughter was born about two years ago he stopped doing repo work full time because the risk wasn't worth the reward.

Jim Wieleba, also of Wethersfield, a co-worker of Kaley's at a Hartford towing company, said he doesn't think his friend fell asleep at the wheel."He's more careful than that," he said.

Nassau District Court Judge Erica Prager ordered Kaley held Tuesday on $90,000 bond or $47,500 cash bail.

Kaley's attorney, William Petrillo, said he expected him to be released by day's end.

In court, Petrillo said there was no evidence Kaley had alcohol or drugs in him when he crashed into the patrol car of Officer Michael Califano. Petrillo said the crash was a "horrible, horrible tragedy" and an accident, not a crime.

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