With helicopters whirring above a line of police vehicles stretched along Jerusalem Avenue from Massapequa to Wantagh, thousands of law enforcement and government officials joined friends and family members of fallen Nassau County Police Officer Michael Califano at Maria Regina Roman Catholic Church in Seaford Thursday to pay final respects in what was an emotional and heavy-hearted funeral service.
Califano, 44, a resident of Wantagh and 12-year veteran of the department, was killed Feb. 4 while conducting a routine traffic stop on the Long Island Expressway when the driver of a flatbed truck, John Kaley, 25, of New Britain, Conn., collided into his parked police cruiser.
Police allege Kaley was asleep at the wheel. He’s free on bail after pleading not guilty to criminally negligent homicide and other charges.
Califano, a highway patrolman, was the first Nassau County police officer to die in the line of duty since 1993. Among other family members, he is survived by his wife, Jacqueline, and three children: Michael, 13; Christopher, 11; and Andrew, 6.
Christopher wore his father’s police hat prior to and after the ceremony.
Thousands of police officers braved the biting cold and stood at attention amid the somber roll of drums and moan of bagpipes as Califano’s casket was escorted inside the church. More than 5,000 members of law enforcement from Long Island and beyond paid respects.
Audio of the mass was streamed to media outlets encamped several blocks away from the services. Inside, it was standing-room only. Hundreds filled pews and lined the church’s stained-glass windows and walls. Many were crying.
“It’s not fair,” Father Joseph Nohs told mourners during a homily focusing on hope, several times referring to Califano’s characteristically and extraordinarily bright smile. Father Joe, as he’s known, formerly of Maria Regina and currently the pastor of Holy Spirit Church in New Hyde Park, was invited by Califano’s wife to preside over the funeral mass. He frequently reminisced about interactions with Califano.
So did fellow officers following the roughly two-hour long service.
“Michael was a great officer, great family man, he was a great partner, he can always be relied upon, always wanted to go home to his kids and enjoyed his family,” recalled Nassau County Police Officer Ira Tobias. “Just a fun-loving, well-loved man.”
“An outstanding police officer, a fine citizen, a family man, a hero,” said a soft-spoken Nassau Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey.
Retired officer Lynndon Ang told the Press he would always remember: “His smile, that’s absolutely it.”
It was a trademark of Califano’s that will live on, defying even death.
Following one mass, Father Joe told the congregation, Califano stood near the entrance of the church dressed in his uniform, jokingly glancing down at his watch and commenting about the length of his sermon.
Through the sobs and tears, everybody smiled.
A memorial has been established for the family of Michael Califano. Donations can be sent to the Michael J. Califano Memorial Fund, c/o Nassau County P.B.A., 89 E. Jericho Tpke., Mineola.