Michael Delgadillo

Michael Delgadillo (Courtesy City of Costa Mesa / March 6, 2013)

A murder victim's father described a detective who was as caring as he was skilled.

Cops remembered a field officer who mentored rookies. An off-the-job buddy recalled a quick-witted jokester.

And the police chief praised his charge's work but took a moment to laud his off-duty role as a "caring father" of four.

These were just some of the words used to describe Costa Mesa Police Det. Mike Delgadillo, a 32-year department veteran who died Wednesday following an off-duty, single-car crash the night before. He was 57.

The cause of the crash remains unknown and is under investigation. Delgadillo's sedan crashed into a column under the Costa Mesa (55) Freeway near Newport Boulevard and Bristol Street at 10:15 p.m. Tuesday, according to police. He was taken to Santa Ana's Western Medical Center, where he died.

He was "a huge influence on the department," said Costa Mesa Police Chief Tom Gazsi. "He was a highly accomplished officer, [a] highly accomplished detective."

Gazsi and the rest of his department grieved for the fallen officer throughout a difficult day at the Civic Center. The US flag flew at half-staff. Officers placed black tape — a sign of respect for the fallen — over their badges.

"He was just one of those great guys that was a little bit of a prankster," said city mechanic Billy Folsom, who has spent years fixing squad cars. "Had one of those larger-than-life senses of humor. He always had a joke or was pulling a prank."

Folsom last saw Delgadillo at the city yard Monday, which happened to be Folsom's last day on the job. The friends talked fondly about retirement. Delgadillo, Folsom said, had planned to retire soon.

"Everybody I know that hung out with him just enjoyed being around him," Folsom said.

Delgadillo had a long history with the CMPD, where he worked numerous assignments.

"Mike has handled many major cases and has dutifully served the Costa Mesa community, and more specifically, the victims of the many cases he has worked over the years," according to a CMPD statement.

Delgadillo began his career in the department in 1981 and quickly moved to a South Coast Plaza specialty assignment. He served as a field training officer in 1987.

Between 1988 and 1994, Delgadillo worked as a canine officer with his service dog, Nero.

"He was really proud back when he was a canine officer," Folsom said.

In 1996, Delgadillo moved on to work as an investigator in the gang unit and a year later became a narcotics investigator.

He began his work in the investigative services bureau in 2004. He handled crimes against people, such as assaults and murders.

Steve Herr praised the way Delgadillo delivered the delicate news of the murder of his son, who lived in Costa Mesa, in May 2010. The accused killer is awaiting trial.

"His loss is tremendous," Herr said of the detective. "There was a bonding. They walked with us through our darkest hour."

Berj Palanjian, who works at Grand Prix Performance on Newport Boulevard, would get coffee with his buddy at the Starbucks on 17th Street.