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 afternoon. “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 located at 126 West F Street. (209) 847-6980.
Chief Jenkins said memorial services for Officer Paul Katuszonek were in the planning stages for Friday, November 16.
For the full story on this tragic incident, read the Nov. 14 edition of the Oakdale Leader.