Reporting Andrea Menniti
OAKDALE (CBS13) – The Oakdale Police Department is mourning the loss of one of their own after an off-duty officer was killed in a chain reaction crash.
Police Chief Lester Jenkins says Officer Paul Katuszonek was running errands before his night shift, when he was killed in the crash.
Word of Katuszonek’s death is sending shocking waves throughout the small, tight-knit police department of just 21 officers.
“It’s been very difficult for them,” said Jenkins. “It’s like an extended family here.”
The 30-year-old off-duty officer was behind the wheel of his car when a semi truck driver failed to stop for a lane closure along Highway 132 near Modesto.
The big rig slammed into Katuzonek, and the chain reaction crash caused another car to hit Caltrans worker Brian Smith, who was flagging cars to alert them to the lane closure, causing major injuries. Katuszonek died instantly.
Jenkins delivered the news to the officer’s wife, who is now the widowed mother of an almost 2-year-old girl.
“They are having a tough time, a real tough time with it, a complete shock to everyone,” said Jenkins.
A five year veteran, Katuszonek recently returned to work after he reportedly battled cancer.
“After what he’s gone through over the last year or so, he’s a real hero in our eyes,” said Jenkins.
Black bands cover the officers’ badges, and the flag is being flown at half staff to honor the officer taken all too soon.
“He was a real go getter,” said Jenkins. “He loved police work, loved what he did, it showed.”
No funeral arraignments have been announced, but the family wants the police department to play a role in the memorial service.