Thousands gathered in Seaford Thursday afternoon to pay their last respects to Nassau County Police Officer Michael J. Califano.
Califano was killed when a flatbed truck slammed into his car during a routine traffic stop on the Long Island Expressway last Friday night. He was pronounced dead at Nassau University Medical Center at 12:30 a.m. Saturday.
The funeral, which took place at Maria Regina Roman Catholic Church, was standing room only for more than an hour before the Mass was scheduled to start. As the procession pulled up to the church, a hush fell over the crowd, which continued as mourners listened to the Nassau County Fife and Drum play “Amazing Grace.”
“This brave man gave his life for the strength of our community,” said William Murphy, the bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, of Califano.
Officers filed through the church in their dress blues to say a final farewell to the fallen officer. Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and Nassau County Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey were also in attendance.
Father Joseph Nohs, a former priest at Maria Regina, led the Mass, and all of the priests and deacons from the parish were also on the altar.
Nohs explained that even though many in the crowd were thinking that the tragic death was unfair, Califano was a man of steady faith and that he found hope and comfort in the church.
“He found his strength and hope here,” Nohs said. “He had hope and he saw the glimmer of good in people. He always put himself last.”
Outside the church, officers on horseback lined the driveway. “Taps” played as Califano's coffin was lifted into the hearse. A young boy in the crowd saluted as six helicopters flew overhead and a police honor guard flew their flags.
A motorcade, which included police from Stamford, Conn. and East Rutherford, N.J. accompanied the procession, which passed Califano’s Wantagh home. Neighbors and flags crowded the streets as officer Califano went home for the last time.
Califano, the first Nassau officer killed in the line of duty since 1993, was buried at the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury.
Police say John Kaley, of New Britain, Conn., fell asleep behind the wheel of the flatbed that crashed into Califano on the expressway. Kaley, 25, faces several charges, including criminally negligent homicide and violating a new law that requires drivers to move over for emergency vehicles.
A memorial fund has been set up for the Califano family. Donations can be made to the Michael J. Califano Memorial Fund, c/o Nassau County PBA, 89 E. Jericho Tpke., Mineola, NY 11501.
In addition, donations can also be made to St. Mary's Foundation for Children, 29-01 216th St., Bayside, NY 11360.
Editor's note: Emily Cappiello is the editor of the Merrick Patch. She is a neighbor of the Califano family.