Black bands covered the badges of Oakdale Police personnel on Friday as the department mourned the loss of their colleague and friend.
Officer Paul Katuszonek, a five-year veteran of the department, died Thursday afternoon, Nov. 8, when a tractor-trailer plowed into the back of his Honda Accord on Highway 132 east of Faust Road in Modesto. Officer Katuszonek was off duty at the time and was scheduled to work that evening.
“It’s really hit the department hard,” said Oakdale Police Chief Lester Jenkins. “With less than 50 employees, we’re a really tight group.”
Chief Jenkins described Officer Katuszonek as a very productive, enthusiastic officer who loved his job.
Officer Katuszonek, 30, was married and leaves behind his wife and a one-year-old daughter.
Counselors and chaplains were available at police headquarters on Thursday afternoon to support police personnel.
“It’s devastating,” said Oakdale Police Officers Association President and Officer Brian Shimmel. “Everyone is in shock and disbelief.”
Shimmel added that Katuszonek had just returned back to work after battling and overcoming cancer and had also been one of the officers brought back after being laid off due to budget cuts.
“For a young man of 30, he’d been through a lot,” Shimmel said. “Despite all the hard times in his life, he remained positive through all of it. Both times he knew he would be coming back to work.”
“We’re hurting here,” added Detective Max Messina on Thursday night. “Paul was a good man.”
Oakdale Mayor Pat Paul said she immediately went to the police department when she was informed of the news Thursday afternoon.
“We cried together and stood there hugging each other,” Paul said about the gathering. “This department is really close and this is so devastating to not only the department, but the city.”
According to the California Highway Patrol, Katuszonek’s Honda was stopped behind another vehicle as Caltrans performed work on Highway 132. The driver of the big rig was not able to brake in time and collided with the back of the Honda, killing Katuszonek instantly.
A Caltrans worker was also injured in the accident and had to be air-lifted to a Modesto hospital where he was reported to be alert and responsive.
The CHP stated the accident is still under investigation.
The Oakdale Police Officers Association has established a trust fund in Officer Katuszonek’s honor for his daughter. Donations may be made at any Valley First Credit Union branch, reference “Oakdale Police Officer.” The account number is #191711. For additional information, contact the Oakdale branch at 126 West F St., or call (209) 847-6980.
Chief Jenkins said a memorial service for Officer Paul Katuszonek is set for Friday, Nov. 16, at Lakewood Memorial Park in Hughson. The police lobby, records, and the animal shelter will be closed that day. In Oakdale, D Street and North Second Avenue will be closed around the police department that morning as officers prepare for the service.
Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department and outside agencies will cover police calls for the city so all members of the department can attend the service.
The Oakdale Police Officers Association also issued a statement: “The OPOA would like to thank everyone for the kind words and condolences given in behalf of our brother and friend, Officer Paul Katuszonek. It shows just how caring the community of Oakdale, our sister Law Enforcement Agencies, and our friends are during (this) time of need. Our deepest sympathy, prayers and hearts go out to Paul’s family during this time of grieving.”