A tragic accident on Christmas Eve in Hayward, California, took the life of Andrew Camilleri, a 33-year-old rookie Highway Patrol officer, and injured his partner, Jonathan Velasquez.
The details of the accident and the life of Camilleri captured the headlines in northern California as it drew remembrances from those who knew the man and honors from police departments from across the state.
The officer was a March graduate of the California Highway Patrol academy, and this was his first Christmas Eve shift. He leaves a wife and three children and a large loving family.
The two officers were parked on the shoulder of Interstate 880 late that Sunday night as they patrolled for dangerous drivers. Velasquez was behind the wheel and Camilleri in the front passenger seat.
Without warning, a Cadillac slammed into the rear of the patrol car, killing Camilleri outright and injuring Velasquez.
The early reports of the accident stated that the 22-year-old driver of the Cadillac was reportedly drunk and was driving so fast that the crash crushed the police SUV into “a very small compact vehicle,” as described by CHP Assistant Chief Ernest Sanchez.
A day or so later, it was revealed that the driver reportedly was under the influence of alcohol and marijuana. He remains hospitalized.
The Bay Area News Group reported on the funeral, which was attended by thousands of police officers from across the state as well as family and friends of Camilleri and Velasquez.
The details of the news stories focused on the two officers and the accident and their families and the human aspects of the tragedy.
I read them but noted with interest that what should have been emphasized was that the driver of the car, which plowed into the police SUV, was under the influence, not only of alcohol but also of marijuana.
This, within days of when the new California law went into effect, legalizing the sale and use of “recreational” marijuana.
After years of wrangling and lobbying, the state passed the law but left a variety of loopholes that will only be resolved over the bodies of victims of accidents caused by the drug.
There is a pattern to this. Reports from Colorado, which legalized pot in 2013, show a sharp increase in pot-related auto fatalities. In 2016 alone, nearly two-thirds of driver deaths involved alcohol and pot.
Washington legalized pot in 2012 and, according to AAA, pot-related fatal crashes doubled from 8 to 17 percent between 2013 and 2014. In 2014 alone, one in six drivers in fatal crashes used pot.
As for California, it is legal to sell, buy and use recreational marijuana but it is not legal to smoke it while driving or riding as a passenger in a motor vehicle.
That may be the law but, at this point, it is almost impossible to police. THC, the active ingredient in pot, stays in the system for days and weeks after it is ingested, and there is no legal level that can be tested and is considered illegal. The state still has to determine that. Until that happens and there is a way to test for it, it’s open season and the roads become more dangerous for everyone.
Police officials know it and are working with their officers to assist them is dealing with violators. But the general attitude of too many Californians is that pot is harmless and there’s nothing to get excited about.
What has gotten people excited is the availability. There were long lines at the stores that will be selling it in various forms. Everyone interviewed by reporters talked about how happy they were it was all going to be legal – whether they wanted pot for fun or for perceived medicinal purposes.
The law says it’s legal for anyone over 21 – but really, does anyone actually believe younger people won’t have access to it? There was, is and will continue to be a major black market in pot in California and other states. It is available to anyone with the bucks to buy it.
Does anyone really believe that the PR about pot being “harmless” won’t entice kids into starting to use it earlier in their lives? Once they’re over 21, they’ll have full access to a drug – yes, it is a drug – that actually damages the brain more than does alcohol. This is a fact proponents ignore, but that doesn’t change reality.
They also ignore the fact that today’s pot is more than six times the strength of the pot of the ’60s.
The politicians who pushed and approved the pot legislation are the same ones who legislate against cigarettes and all tobacco products, yet continually increase taxes on them.
Should anyone be surprised when estimates are that pot sales are expected to reach $4 billion in the next year or so – and those legal sales will bring in at least a 15 percent tax on retail prices in addition to a cultivation tax of $9.25 per ounce for flowers and $2.75 per ounce for leaves?
It’s a nice haul for the state, which needs money to cover budget deficits while it ignores the destruction of lives it is causing.
The funeral for Officer Andrew J. Camilleri was held at the Christian Life Center in Tracy, attended by thousands of mourners.
Media wishing to interview Barbara Simpson, please contact [email protected].