The truck driver who dozed off at the wheel and caused the crash that killed Nassau County Police Officer Michael Califano two years ago walked out of court Thursday a free man after making a plea deal.
John Kaley pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of misdemeanor reckless driving after prosecutors dropped a felony count of criminally negligent homicide. Police officers packed the Nassau County courtroom for the emotional hearing and lined the hallway outside.
“The pain we experienced is beyond description and continues to be,” Assistant District Attorney Maureen McCormick said while reading a statement written by Califano’s widow, Jackie.
“I wish I could change things but I know that’s impossible,” William Petrillo, the Rockville Centre-based attorney for the 27-year-old Connecticut man, said while reading the statement written by Kaley, who started sobbing too much to read it himself.
Prosecutors said Kaley was driving while drowsy, drifting from his lane on the Long Island Expressway when he crashed into the 44-year-old officer’s cruiser while Califano was conducting a traffic stop near exit 39 on the LIE on Feb. 4, 2011.
But, it has been virtually impossible to convict a driver of criminally negligent homicide in New York, because the statute is in flux, said Nassau prosecutors, who pointed to a Bronx jury that recently acquitted a bus driver of the same charge for killing 15 people in a crash after authorities accused him of driving without enough sleep.
“We’re bound by New York’s laws and New York’s highest court,” McCormick told the court, explaining that investigators were unable to establish evidence needed to convict Kaley under the law.
After the hearing, McCormick joined Nassau County Police Benevolent Association President James Carver at a news conference where they vowed to lobby for state legislation to strengthen the law.
“He knew he was not alert enough to drive, but he continued to do so, resulting in the death of our brother, and that’s not right,” Carver said. “We cannot continue to have laws that let people like this who are reckless and have no regard for anybody else on the road to continue to drive. They should be punished and they should be sent away for a long time.”
Judge William O’Brien ordered Kaley, who faced up to four years in prison for the felony, to pay a $500 fine and revoked his privilege to drive in New York. He then tried to console Califano’s family.
“I too suffered a loss from an early age,” Judge O’Brien told Califano’s three sons, Michael, 16, Christopher, 13, and Andrew, 8. “You too can come back from it.”