On the one-year anniversary of the death of off-duty Oakdale Police Officer Paul Katuszonek, the attorney representing the family of the officer announced that Gold Star Foods Inc., a food distribution and long haul trucking company based in Ontario, CA, agreed to pay $8.5 million to Katuszonek’s family to settle claims that its truck driver employee caused his death.
On Nov. 8, 2012, Officer Katuszonek, 30, was stopped on Highway 132 in his Honda Civic waiting behind another car at a Caltrans road closure. Officer Katuszonek was off duty at the time and was scheduled to work that evening.
According to the California Highway Patrol, Katuszonek’s Honda was rear ended by a big rig, killing Katuszonek instantly. The driver of the big rig stated he was not able to brake in time to avoid the collision.
The investigation showed the driver, Gold Star employee Jose Hermosillo, had been driving for over 22 hours with only 4½ hours rest, when he rear-ended Katuszonek’s vehicle at 55 mph without slowing for the road closure.
“It was a clear case of driver fatigue,” said Modesto lawyer Steven Fabbro, who represented the Katuszonek family. “Federal and State laws regulate commercial truck drivers’ allowable hours of driving and service. Mr. Hermosillo far exceeded the maximum allowable driving hours, was obviously fatigued and did not respond to the traffic conditions ahead of his tractor trailer, and failed to slow or stop in time to avoid the collision.”
Fabbro said the CHP investigation revealed that Hermosillo falsified his driver’s logs to make it appear as though his behind the wheel driving time complied with the law. Records obtained from the GPS system on the Gold Star truck proved that Hermosillo was actually driving in excess of allowable hours, even though Hermosillo reported that he was resting or off duty.
According to a company representative, Hermosillo no longer works for Gold Star Foods.
The investigation by the CHP recommended that Hermosillo be charged with felony manslaughter in Katuszonek’s death and on Nov. 6 the Stanislaus District Attorney’s Office filed felony vehicular manslaughter charges against Hermosillo.
“Officer Katuszonek was a good man, husband and father,” said Fabbro. “His death was a tragic loss for his family and community.”
The matter against the trucking company was set for civil trial in seven days when the firm agreed to settle last month.
Speaking on behalf of the family, Fabbro said, “I’d also like to commend Chief (Lester) Jenkins and his department for standing behind the family and assisting them with whatever they needed.”