Gray and cloudy skies matched the somber mood of those attending the funeral service for Oakdale Police Officer Paul Katuszonek on Friday morning, Nov. 16, at Lakewood Memorial Park in Hughson.
The five-year veteran officer of the department was killed when a semi-truck ran into the back of his vehicle, stopped for highway construction along Highway 132 near Modesto on Thursday, Nov. 8.
Coming from departments all across the Central Valley and Bay Area, police officers joined with the Oakdale Police Department for a solemn funeral procession leaving from the department’s North Second Avenue headquarters, through the city, and toward Lakewood Memorial Park where it entered under a giant US flag draped from the extended ladders of two Stanislaus Consolidated Fire District fire engines.
Family, friends, and officers funneled past an assembled honor guard into the chapel where a flag draped casket, poised with two officers at its side, was at the front. Once the chapel filled, attendees were directed to the facility’s outside carport entrance where an audio system was set up so they could at least hear the service.
A video montage began the service showing Katuszonek through various stages of his life prior to the invocation by Oakdale Police Officer Joseph Parreira who used a quote from one of Katuszonek’s aunts to describe him.
“Paul loved life and never missed a day,” quoted Parreira.
Elizabeth Harrelson, Katuszonek’s sister-in-law, read a letter from Katuszonek’s wife, Shannon that brought more tears to those assembled.
In the letter Shannon promised to watch over their daughter, Ava, including “teaching her to shoot and being involved in karate.”
The wife of only two years described her husband as never knowing what the sidelines of life looked like and that he “never met a dance floor he didn’t own.” She promised to never forget him and wrote that his strength would get her through.
Nathan Ash expanded on Katuszonek’s dance moves telling stories about his wedding and showing a video that brought laughter out of the sorrow in the crowd.
Oakdale Police Chief Lester Jenkins was brief in his eulogy recalling Katuszonek’s love for one-liners and movie quotes.
“He was always ‘when I get back’ not ‘if I get back,’” said Jenkins of Katuszonek’s past challenges with fighting cancer and dealing with his lay off during department cutbacks.
Jenkins closed with a remembrance to Katuszonek of “Bu-yah!”
Katuszonek’s sergeant, Joe Carrillo, remembered being Katuszonek’s training officer and described Katuszonek as “charging hard.”
“When it was time to work, his game face was like no other,” said Carrillo.
Officer Rocky Anderson delivered a heartfelt tribute to Katuszonek and not only spoke to those gathered, but more toward his departed friend and beat partner.
“Every obstacle thrown your way was not only overcome, but overcome in decisive fashion,” claimed an emotional Anderson.
When the memorial service was over, the procession moved graveside where a bag pipe player, a bugler, and armed seven-member honor detail were assembled.
Three-volleys of rifle fire were conducted followed by Taps as the flag was folded from Katuszonek’s casket. The flag was given to Chief Jenkins who presented the flag to Shannon Katuszonek.
To conclude the ceremony, a dispatcher’s voice was heard over the police radio as it called out Katuszonek’s radio call sign, 4-L-5, to end his watch.
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. The account number is #191711. For additional information, contact the Oakdale branch at 126 West F St., or call (209) 847-6980.