Funeral services for Nassau Police Officer Michael J. Califano at...

Funeral services for Nassau Police Officer Michael J. Califano at Maria Regina Roman Catholic Church in Seaford. (February 10, 2011) Credit: Newsday photo/Alejandra Villa

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer knows first-hand that Nassau police officers patrolling the Long Island Expressway walk a fine line -- literally -- between life and death.

Schumer (D-N.Y.) Monday stood just yards from the spot on the LIE where a truck last month slammed into Nassau Highway Patrol Officer Michael Califano's car to call on federal and state officials to launch an audit to determine how to help officers who pull over motorists only to risk their lives while navigating the narrow shoulders of the highway.

"Officer Califano's life ended way too soon," he said, flanked by members of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association. "While conducting the most routine of traffic stops."

Califano was killed when his cruiser was struck by a trucker who prosecutors said had fallen asleep at the wheel early on Feb. 5.

PBA President James Carver and other union officials gave Schumer a tour of the perilous shoulders where officers daily insert themselves between the cars of motorists and traffic, the heels of their boots barely fitting inside the white line separating the tiny rest area from speeding vehicles.

"There's hardly enough room to open your car door without it getting ripped off, let alone getting out of your patrol car to approach the driver of the vehicle that you've just pulled over," Schumer said.

Schumer joined the PBA in calling for a "road safety audit" by the Federal Highway Administration and the state Department of Transportation in partnership with the PBA, adding that 25 officers have been hit by vehicles on the LIE over the past 10 years.

The audit could lead to safety recommendations, he said.

"There's got to be a solution to this," Carver said.

Schumer said seven of the 25 officers who have been victims of collisions on the LIE during so-called routine traffic stops over the course of the past decade were hit twice and that at least five are unable to work because of their injuries.

In addition to the recent death of Califano, Officer Kenneth Baribault was left partially paralyzed and with brain damage after being struck by a drunken driver in March 2008.

Of special note, Schumer said, is the area of the LIE known as "The Valley."

That is a long stretch of road between Exit 39 and Exit 40 that Schumer pointed out has "little to no median or shoulder room for operations" and has what he called "low dim" lighting. He said "significant" land exists to expand the shoulder in this area in order to create what Schumer's office noted would be safer conditions for Nassau patrol officers conducting traffic stops.

In a letter to FHWA administrator Victor M. Mendez and NYSDOT commissioner Joan McDonald, Schumer urged the organizations to "make recommendations for safety improvements" on the LIE.

"For years," he wrote, "Long Island roadways have been amongst the most hazardous in the nation in terms of traffic fatalities." He added: "For police officers, the Long Island Expressway is especially treacherous and we see numerous incidences each year where officers are harmed during routine traffic stops along the LIE."

On its website, the Federal Highway Administration defined a road safety audit as a "formal safety performance examination of an existing or future road or intersection by an independent multidisciplinary team."

Schumer called it critical that the agencies work together to immediately conduct a safety audit and said that audit "should focus on those problem areas that are most dangerous to law enforcement."

Responses from the agencies to that request were not immediately available Monday.

With John Valenti

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