Hundreds gather for services for officer killed in Christmas Eve crash
Officer Andrew Camilleri, who was struck and killed by an alleged drunken driver, was remembered as a hero
By Almendra Carpizo
The Record, Stockton, Calif.
STOCKTON, Calif. — Andrew Camilleri was known for his infectious smile.
Yet, in the last eight months it seemed that his perpetual grin had widened that much more. He had realized his dream of becoming a California Highway Patrol officer.
But his dream was cut short on Christmas Eve. Camilleri died while on-duty Dec. 24, when an alleged drunken driver slammed into his CHP sport utility vehicle.
Today, along side several other agencies across the nation, we said our final farewell to Officer Andrew Camilleri. His courage, bravery & spirit will always be remembered. Our thoughts continue to be with @CHPHayward & the entire @CHP_GoldenGate organization during this time. pic.twitter.com/zSAKok8LH3— AlamedaPD (@AlamedaPD) December 30, 2017
On Saturday, as a blanket of fog descended on San Joaquin County, a solemn procession for Camilleri made its way from Tracy to Stockton, where hundreds of law enforcement officers and emergency responders gathered at the Christian Life Center in Stockton to honor their fallen comrade and to lend their support to his grieving family. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra were also in attendance.
Camilleri, a 2002 West High School graduate, had his sights set on being a CHP officer since he was in high school. In 2000, he was in the CHP's explorer program. And by March 3, after completing 28 weeks of rigorous training, he earned his badge — No. 21653.
CHP Capt. Tim Pearson said Camilleri truly loved his job and was always excited to work.
"I first met Andrew when he came to the Hayward area for his cadet ride along; as he was sitting in the briefing room, he was just beaming," Pearson said. "He had this energy, and eagerness and excitement about him. He couldn't wait to complete the academy.
"A couple of months later I saw Andrew as he reported to the Hayward area as a newly promoted officer, and that infectious smile was still beaming on his face. I don't think that smile ever came off his face."
During the academy, Camilleri and his wife made the sacrifice of living in separate states so he could pursue his calling, said Warren Stanley, acting commissioner of the CHP. After 97 days, he was able to fly out to Texas to see his wife and three children, who were living with family, and he shared with his academy officers how much it meant to him to see them. It made his graduation that much more special as he was appreciative of the sacrifice his family made, he added.
Stanley said he was proud to share that story of Camilleri because it speaks to the person, man and father he was.
Pursuing a career in law enforcement took its toll on Camilleri, shared the family's Pastor Doug Diestler. When he visited Tracy while in the academy, he was sleeping on people's couches. He looked tired and beat up, but he didn't waste his life. He was chasing his dream, he added.
Camilleri's wife, Rosanna, recently told Diestler that she had no regrets about her husband's career path. He was the happiest he'd ever been doing what he loved, she said.
Camilleri was 10 days away from reaching his ninth month with the CHP when he was killed. He and his partner, Officer Jonathan Velasquez, were stopped in their SUV along the Winton Avenue onramp to southbound Interstate 880. The officers were watching for speeding vehicles as part of the CHP's enhanced holiday enforcement when just after 11:30 p.m., an errant driver drifted off the interstate and struck the right rear of the officers' vehicle, the CHP said.
Velasquez, who was sitting in the driver's seat, survived the impact. Camilleri, in the front passenger seat, was taken to St. Rose Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He was 33.
Velasquez, who made an impromptu speech during the service, said in the three months he spent as Camilleri's partner, the two grew a special bond. He learned Camilleri was a family man. In fact, Camilleri talked about his wife and three children — Elizabeth, 12, Andrew Jr., 6, and Ryder, 2 — every shift, he added.
"Andrew, I know you can hear me," Velasquez said, his voice breaking. "I love you, buddy. And it was an honor being your partner."
After the service, a motorcade led a black hearse with Camilleri's casket to the Tracy Public Cemetery. Hundreds of law enforcement officers, from as far away as Michigan, Florida and Colorado, lined the road to honor their fallen brother. Along the route, firefighters and state employees waited at bridges to pay their respects and highway signs read, "Thank you, 21653."
Though Camilleri's law enforcement career was brief, his supervisors said his legacy as a hero will forever be remembered.
Every morning, when he'd get off work, Camilleri would put on his superhero-themed backpack and place his Power Rangers wallet in his pocket and go, Pearson said, adding that the green Power Ranger was his favorite superhero.
"Andrew is a CHP superhero," he said.
CHP Chief Paul Fontana echoed that sentiment stating that while they were all there together to honor how Andrew lived, "this service ultimately pays utmost tribute to the way he died.
"Andrew died a hero, out on patrol Christmas Eve. He was taken by the very dangers he was out to prevent."
Camilleri is survived by his wife, Rosanna, a daughter, two sons, his parents Sharon and Michael, his brother Matthew, and sister Ashley.
The memorial service for fallen CHP Officer Andrew Camilleri has ended. Officers from throughout region, state and country are here. A motorcade will leave soon to Tracy for Camilleri’s burial at the Tracy Public Cemetery at 501 W. Schulte Road. pic.twitter.com/Qn9bTRPf7n— Almendra Carpizo (@AlmendraCarpizo) December 30, 2017
©2017 The Record (Stockton, Calif.)