By FRANK ELTMAN | AP
MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — A Connecticut truck driver suspected of falling asleep on the Long Island Expressway, causing a crash that killed a police officer, walked out of a New York courtroom a free man on Thursday after a prosecutor said it was unlikely she could win a conviction on a charge of criminally negligent homicide.
John Kaley, of New Britain, Conn., instead pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of reckless driving stemming from the February 2011 crash. A judge revoked his license and fined him $500.
Turning to speak to Nassau County Police Officer Michael Califano's weeping widow and three sobbing young sons seated in the front row of the gallery in courtroom crowded with uniformed and plainclothes police officers, Kaley choked up. "There are no words to express how deeply sorry I am for the loss of Officer Califano," Kaley said before becoming overcome.
His attorney, William Petrillo, who had earlier expressed his own regrets to the grieving family, finished reading the statement. "Every day I wish I could change things, but I know that's impossible."
Assistant District Attorney Maureen McCormick said Kaley's flatbed truck slammed into a police cruiser with its lights flashing after Califano had stopped another motorist in Old Westbury around 11 p.m.
Although witnesses had described seeing Kaley weaving through traffic for two miles before the crash, McCormick said, it was unlikely that alone could win a conviction. She said prosecutors also found it was difficult to prove allegations that Kaley had fallen asleep.
McCormick cited the acquittal of a bus driver charged with criminally negligent homicide in a Bronx case last year. The driver in that case had also been suspected of falling asleep behind the wheel. Fifteen people died in that crash on I-95 in the Bronx as they were returning from a Connecticut casino. In that case, Ophadell Williams was found guilty on one count of aggravated unlicensed driving.
McCormick explained that in order to obtain a conviction in such cases, prosecutors must show "serious blameworthiness," ''moral blameworthiness," or "dangerous speeding."
She and Police Benevolent Association President James Carver said they would continue to lobby in Albany for legislation making it easier to get convictions in such cases.
Most people in the courtroom, including gruff-looking police officers and veteran journalists, became teary-eyed when McCormick read a statement on behalf of Califano's widow, Jackie. She hugged and wept with her sons Michael, 16, Christopher, 13, and Andrew, 8, while McCormick spoke.
"To this day I still hear my boys crying out, yelling for Daddy, when they were told the news. The pain we experienced is beyond description and continues to be.
"Michael, Christopher and Andrew now have to grow up without him. No more doing homework with his help. No more sports with him. No more family vacations. No more horsing around with dad. No dad for Father/Son Night at school. No dad at home to turn to when they need advice."