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Long IslandNassau

Officials: Sleeping driver killed cop on LIE

Nassau County Highway Patrol Officer Michael J. Califano,

Nassau County Highway Patrol Officer Michael J. Califano, 44, was struck and killed in a crash during a traffic stop Feb. 4, 2011, on the Long Island Expressway. Califano is seen in a file photo taken Nov. 5, 2009, as he guards an office holding Election Day paper ballots from the Nassau county executive's race. Photo Credit: File / Patrick E. McCarthy

In Nassau's first line-of-duty police death since 1993, a highway patrolman died early Saturday after a traffic stop on the Long Island Expressway in which a trucker who dozed off slammed into the officer's stopped patrol car, authorities said.

Friday night's three-vehicle wreck crushed Officer Michael J. Califano, 44, of Wantagh and trapped him inside his Ford Crown Victoria. Rescuers worked for 30 minutes before they were able to rip open the mangled car and free Califano, officials said. The husband and father of three was pronounced dead at about 12:30 a.m. Saturday at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow.

"I don't think he had a chance," said James Carver, head of Califano's union, the Police Benevolent Association.

The sleeping trucker, John Kaley, 25, was arrested on charges including criminally negligent homicide.

Investigators said the crash happened Friday at about 10:50 p.m., after Califano, a 12-year veteran, pulled over a westbound box truck for insufficient lighting near Exit 39 in Old Westbury.

As Califano sat in his car with lights flashing, a flatbed truck slammed into his car from behind. That flatbed, which was carrying a Nissan, sent the patrol car under the box truck. The box truck was knocked into traffic, and the flatbed ended up on top of the police car, police said.

"It's like he's driving over the patrol car," said Det. Lt. Kevin Smith, the department's chief spokesman. "The front of the police car submarines under the box truck."

Kaley, of New Britain, Conn., told officers he was "pushing it to get back to Connecticut," prosecutor Robert Hayden said at Kaley's arraignment Saturday, where a judge ordered him jailed without bail.

Hayden said several witnesses saw Kaley weaving between lanes and then accelerate just before hitting Califano's car. Hayden said that Kaley fell asleep at the wheel while driving with his fiancee and was going about 60 to 70 mph just before the crash. Kaley didn't notice the police car, the prosecutor said. The speed limit is 55 mph.

They were stopped in a striped area between the traffic lanes and the exit ramp, officials said. Nassau Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey said the location was a good spot for a traffic stop.

Three other people in addition to the officer were hurt. They were taken to Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola and treated for their injuries, the records said.

Kaley was charged with three counts of misdemeanor assault in connection with the three who survived the crash.

Kaley, who has a 2-year-old daughter, pleaded not guilty at the arraignment. His fiancee, identified in court papers as Elizabeth Berdan, told police she was jarred awake when Kaley drove over the rumble strips in the road.

Police said there were no markings on the road to indicate that Kaley may have slammed on his brakes to try to stop.

Reached on her cell phone last night, Berdan declined to comment.

Two Nassau patrol cars blocked off the entrance to the Califano home Saturday afternoon.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said, "It is with much sorrow that we say goodbye to a true hero."

Kaley was cited in Connecticut in January and February 2010 for alleged reckless driving, Nassau police said. They didn't know whether he'd been convicted.

Saturday, Kaley also was cited for violating a new New York State law that requires motorists to slow down and in some cases move away from emergency vehicles that are stopped and have their lights activated.

The last Nassau police officer to die in the line of duty was Gary Farley, who died in 1993 shortly after a domestic violence suspect punched him in the chest.

This story was reported by Yamiche Alcindor, Stacey Altherr, Aisha Al-Muslim, Matthew Chayes, Emily C. Dooley and Keith Herbert; and researched by Maryann Zimmerman. It was written by Chayes and Herbert.

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