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Califano was 'a sweetheart of a man'

Nassau County Police Officer Michael J. Califano, 44,

Nassau County Police Officer Michael J. Califano, 44, died early Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011, after a flatbed truck slammed into the rear of his stopped patrol car on the Long Island Expressway in Old Westbury, police said. Credit: File / Patrick E. McCarthy

When Michael J. Califano's infant daughter was ill, he would finish his 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift as a patrol officer for the Nassau County Police Department, then rush to a Queens hospital to see his child, the officer's former partner recalled Saturday.

"At 7 at night, he got dressed and went straight over to the hospital," said Dan Clarke, who was Califano's sector car partner for five years in the First Precinct in Baldwin. "On his days off, he spent his whole day there."

After the girl, Michaela, died in 2003 of a congenital disease, not yet 1 year old, Califano and his wife, Jackie, poured their grief into helping other children at St. Mary's Hospital for Children, attending fundraisers and other programs, Clarke said.

"They handled it like I don't know how anybody else could have handled it," Clarke said Saturday in the hours after Califano, 44, of Wantagh, died after an accident on the Long Island Expressway.

"They just put their best foot forward and just mourned in their own way," Clarke said. "And now Jackie's going to have to go through it again with this."

Califano had been a Nassau County police officer since 1998 and a member of the Highway Patrol Bureau for the past few years. Before that, the graduate of St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip worked for the Nassau Corrections Division for 10 years.

"Police Officer Califano's dedication to keeping Nassau County safe deserves the highest recognition and sincere gratitude," County Executive Edward Mangano said Saturday.

At a news conference, Police Commissioner Lawrence W. Mulvey read from an elderly woman's August 2009 letter praising Califano for wiring up her dragging car muffler. "That typifies what he was about," he said.

The St. Mary's chaplain, Michael Maroutsis, said Califano was "a dedicated father with a quiet gentleness who was involved in all aspects of his child's care."

Mangano ordered all county buildings to fly flags at half-staff in memory of Califano.

Califano often went on a one-day ski trip with other First Precinct officers, but had skipped the trip Friday.

"A lot of guys returning from the trip on the bus passed the crash site," said Clarke, who also took his family on ski trips with Califano's family. "They didn't even know it was a police-involved accident and then on top of it . . . Mike was involved in the accident."

Califano leaves behind his wife and three young boys, Michael, 13, Christopher, 11, and Andrew, 6.

Nassau Police Benevolent Association President James Carver said he didn't know Califano personally, but he could tell from what other officers said that he was "a sweetheart of a man."

"He was a very friendly guy," Carver said. "One of the officers who knew him said he was the kind of guy you want to have marry your daughter."

With Stacey Altherr

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