A somber bell-ringing ceremony in Sacramento on Wednesday morning honored the life and service of a California Highway Patrol officer who lost his life on Christmas Eve after a suspected drunk driver slammed into a parked patrol vehicle in the East Bay.
Standing in front of countless CHP officers, grieving family members and friends, CHP's Acting Commissioner Warren Stanley paid tribute to fallen officer Andrew Camilleri, who leaves behind a wife and three children.
"We are forever grateful for his loyal and dedicated service and show gratitude to his family for their sacrifice," Stanley said. "Andrew Camilleri epitomizes what a CHP officer should always be: a dedicated and selfless public servant. He will not be forgotten."
At full attention outside the CHP Academy on Reed Avenue in West Sacramento, CHP officers paid their respects while two of their colleagues rang a bell one time to mark Camilleri's end of watch.
"It's a tragedy for Officer Camilleri's family," Stanley said. "It's a tragedy for the CHP. It's a tragedy for the state of California. We shouldn't be here because this did not have to happen."
Despite the grief, Capt. Tim Pearson with CHP Hayward noted that Camilleri's family has demonstrated admirable fortitude in the face of utter despair.
"Andrew has an amazing family," Pearson said. "His wife has provided a tremendous amount of strength for us when it should really be the other way."
Outside the department's Hayward office, where Camilleri worked, a memorial is growing as mourners leave flowers in his remembrance. Most of them had never even met the rookie officer.
"I heard over the news that he had passed right before midnight," Aruna Singh said. "It really touched me. So my mom and I came to pay our respects."
The CHP is in the process of planning Camilleri's funeral, which officials said is expected in the next week.
Officials said they have received an outpouring of support from the community after the loss of one of their officers.
The California Association of Highway Patrolmen Credit Union has set up a fund to benefit the Callimeri family, according to the CHP Golden Gate division's Facebook page.
Camilleri's body was escorted late Tuesday afternoon during a procession that started from the Alameda County Coroner's Office in Oakland to Fry Memorial Chapel in Tracy. Camilleri lived in the San Joaquin County city with his family.
Police, firefighters and paramedics were seen saluting Camilleri from overpasses along Interstate 580.
Camilleri and his partner, Officer Jonathan Velasquez were parked on the shoulder of southbound Interstate 880 in Hayward, with their eyes peeled for impaired drivers. Around 11:30 p.m. Sunday, a man, who officials believe was speeding under the influence of alcohol and drugs, rammed into the back of their CHP SUV.
Camilleri was killed and Velasquez suffered non-life threatening injuries.
The 33-year-old is survived by his parents, siblings, wife, a 12-year-old daughter, and two sons, ages 6 and 2, 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 occurred near State Route 92 and the Winton Avenue on-ramp. A red Cadillac, which was being driven by a 22-year-old Hayward man at "a very high rate of speed," careened 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.
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 in "very 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.
Ashley Wharton, Camilleri's sister, posted a message about him on Facebook, asking people who knew him to share with the family any photos or memories they have.
She said Camilleri was a "loving" family man, and someone who was "dedicated" to the CHP.
"This was his dream. He always wanted to be a CHP Officer. I'm so happy I got to see him doing what he always wanted to do," Wharton wrote.
Camilleri was a "great" elder brother, who was always in her corner and steadfast with comfort and advice.
"I couldn't ask for a more amazing big brother," Wharton wrote. "I will cherish our memories and he will never be forgotten ... You will be missed and we love you."
Procession for Fallen CHP Officer Andrew Camilleri
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.'"
Camilleri had no idea "what hit him," Salinas said, recalling telling her husband that the officer was "gone."
Salinas said it was hard 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."
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.
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.
NBC Bay Area's Kristofer Noceda, Brendan Weber, Christie Smith, Roz Plater, Anser Hassan and Thom Jensen contributed to this report.