A California Highway Patrol officer was killed in the line of duty on southbound Interstate 880 in Hayward on Christmas Eve after being rear-ended by a suspected drunk driver returning from a party, officials say.
The slain officer, identified as Andrew Camilleri, 33, of Tracy, leaves behind his parents, siblings, a wife, a 12-year-old daughter, and two sons, ages 6 and 2. His partner, Jonathan Velasquez, survived the wreck with non-life-threatening injuries, according to Asst. Chief Ernest Sanchez.
"This is not the way we wanted to celebrate Christmas Day,” Sanchez said. “It’s definitely not the way we wanted the community to think of the 2017 Christmas holiday, but today’s not a holiday for the highway patrol. Today is the tragic loss of one of our own.”
The collision was first reported around 11:30 p.m. Sunday near State Route 92 and the Winton Avenue on-ramp. A red Cadillac, which was being driven by a 22-year-old man at "a very high rate of speed," veered into the shoulder of the road, ramming into the right side of the CHP vehicle, Sanchez said.
"The impact was so severe that it turned a utility vehicle into a very small compact vehicle," Sanchez said.
Camilleri and Velasquez, who was seated in the driver's seat, were participating in the department's Maximum Enforcement Patrol to ensure the safety of motorists during the holiday season.
The driver, a Hayward resident, was allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, most likely marijuana. Sanchez said he believes that the suspect was "coming home from a party and had obviously had too much to drink and maybe too much to smoke."
The man, who "chose to be irresponsible" and is hospitalized in serious condition, will face a slew of felony charges upon his release from the hospital, Sanchez said.
"This needs to stop," he said. "Too many tragedies have happened, and today, I’m not only disappointed but also angered" about having to deliver such heartbreaking news to an unsuspecting family.
Camilleri's children “were expecting (their) father to come home and help open Christmas presents,” Sanchez said. Instead, he was pronounced dead at St. Rose Hospital.
Allison Salinas witnessed the fatal crash, saying the suspect vehicle passed her going more than 100 mph and swerving across the roadway.
"I just remember seeing brake lights and like smoke, and I guess that's when he rear ended the CHP vehicle," she said. "And then I just saw the Cadillac roll. It was like a movie, and then my husband is yelling, he hit a CHP."
Salinas said it's hard for to celebrate Chistmas so soon after seeing such a horrific crash.
"We don't really want to be festive," she said. "How can we, when this poor family ... You know they have to grieve now, because of somebody's stupidity."
Capt. Tim Pearson, commander of the CHP office in Hayward, fondly recalled Camilleri, who joined the department in August 2016.
“Being a CHP officer is a calling," Pearson said. "Andrew was drawn to this profession due to his courage, integrity and his desire to serve. Andrew was a great man who loved his job and loved his family."
Footage from the scene shows debris littering the roadway, while both cars were severely mangled.
The grisly crash forced an hours-long closure of all southbound lanes of I-880 near Winton Avenue across from Southland Mall. Traffic was congested because all vehicles were being diverted to A Street from midnight to just before 10 a.m. Some drivers even used the emergency lane to exit the freeway.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, Cal Fire, and other local law enforcement agencies took to social media to express their condolences.
Gov. Jerry Brown released a statement, which said in part: “Anne and I are deeply saddened to learn of the tragic loss of Officer Camilleri, who died yesterday while working to keep our communities safe," Brown said."We join his family, friends and the entire California Highway Patrol in mourning his death and in honoring his sacrifice.”
Flags at the state Capitol will be flown at half-staff, Brown said.
The California Association of Highway Patrolmen Credit Union is setting up a fund to benefit the Callimeri family.
NBC Bay Area's Thom Jensen contributed to this report.