1 Calif. officer killed, another injured in Christmas Eve crash
Rookie Officer Andrew Camilleri was killed when a suspected drunk driver slammed into the back of his patrol car
Duty Death: Andrew Camilleri – [Hayward, California]
End of Service: 12/24/2017
Yesterday at 10:33 AM
By Erin Baldassari and Marisa Kendall
East Bay Times
HAYWARD, Calif. — Rookie CHP officer Andrew Camilleri Sr. had dreamed of wearing the uniform since high school and was working his first Christmas Eve shift, trying to the keep the roads safe from intoxicated drivers. But he couldn’t save himself when, just before midnight, a suspected drunken driver drifted off Interstate 880 and slammed into the back of his patrol car.
The crash crushed the officer’s SUV, injuring Camilleri’s fellow officer Jonathan Velasquez and killing Camilleri as his three children slept at home in Tracy. On Christmas morning, his wife Rosanna was still struggling with how to break the awful news.
“They were going to open their Christmas presents first before Rosanna tells them,” Andrew’s mother, Sharon Camilleri, said through tears Monday morning.
Andrew Camilleri was 33 and had only graduated from the CHP Academy in March, his mother said.
“Today is the tragic loss of one our own, who we will consider a hero now and forever,” CHP Assistant Chief Ernest Sanchez said at a morning news conference.
The officers’ SUV was parked on the shoulder of I-880 near State Highway 92 late Sunday night as they patrolled for dangerous drivers. Camilleri was in the front passenger seat, and Velasquez was behind the wheel. The Cadillac was driving so fast that the impact crushed the SUV into “a very small compact vehicle,” Sanchez said.
The crash shut down all southbound lanes on I-880 until 9:40 a.m. Monday.
Velasquez, another young officer in the Hayward division, suffered minor injuries and was treated and released from Eden Medical Center, Sanchez said. “He will live with this tragedy of his seeing his partner die.”
The CHP on Monday afternoon had yet to disclose the name of the 22-year-old driver who was being treated for serious injuries at a hospital. Officers believe he was under the influence of marijuana and alcohol when he got behind the wheel and headed south on 880. Sanchez said he was coming home from a party, and “obviously had too much to drink and too much to smoke.” The crash was reported shortly before midnight on Sunday.
“Today, I’m not only disappointed but also angered in that I had to notify a mother and three children that their father had (died) at a local hospital after being impacted by a person who chose to drive irresponsibly,” Sanchez said. “That is the message today on Christmas Day: These irresponsible and senseless acts need to stop.”
Camilleri was the latest victim in a growing number of fatal collisions on Bay Area roadways involving drugs or alcohol, Sanchez said. Between 2010 and 2016, the number of fatal crashes in the Bay Area increased 43 percent with speed, unsafe turning, and driving under the influence the top three contributors, according to an analysis by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
Earning his badge was a long-time dream for Camilleri, who was part of the CHP’s Explorer Program in high school, his mother said. But it wasn’t one he realized right away — instead he got married and had children, built a career at Clark Pest Control, and put off enrolling in the rigorous 27-week CHP training program.
He finally enrolled in the CHP Academy last year, and graduated March 3. He got a big kick out of the traditional run that marks the event: Graduating cadets run five miles from the academy building in Sacramento to the California Peace Officers’ Memorial across from the Capitol, while their fellow cadets line the route, poised in push-up position.
“I was very proud of him,” Sharon Camilleri said. “Very, very proud.”
The Christmas tragedy was an emotional blow to his fellow officers at the CHP. Camilleri is the second CHP officer to die in the line of duty this year, according to an online database maintained by the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, a union that represents CHP officers. Officer Lucas Forrest Chellew was killed in a crash in February in South Sacramento while pursuing a vehicle.
“Andrew was drawn to this profession due to his courage, his integrity and his desire to serve,” said Capt. Tim Pearson, commander of the CHP’s Hayward division. “The consequences of this action affect the department statewide, but that pales in comparison to what his wife and three children now have to live with.”
Camilleri’s family said he was a “hands-on dedicated father” to his 12-year-old daughter and 6- and 2-year-old sons. He was scheduled to work Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, so the family celebrated on Friday.
On Christmas Eve, his mother Sharon Camilleri was spending the holiday at her sister Michele Speciale’s house in Monterey. At 2 a.m. Christmas morning the phone rang. It was Andrew’s wife, Rosanna. Sharon had to get to the hospital “right now,” Rosanna said. “Something happened to Andrew.”
In shock, Sharon Camilleri and her daughter, 27-year-old Ashley Wharton, jumped in the car and rushed to Hayward. The drive took an hour and a half, and the two women’s minds were racing. Camilleri kept thinking that if they got pulled over for speeding, she’d tell them her son was the CHP officer in the hospital, and they had to get to him.
When they got there, he was already gone. The family is still in shock, Sharon Camilleri said, even though a small part of her had known this day might come.
“It’s always in the back of your mind,” she said, “when you’ve got somebody in law enforcement.”