Family and friends speak in court about death of Oakdale police officer

rahumada@modbee.comJuly 1, 2014 

Katuszonek Paul

OAKDALE PD — Oakdale PD

The outcome already had been decided when Jose Santos Hermosillo appeared in court Tuesday afternoon for his sentencing. He would not be serving any more time in jail for a crash that killed Oakdale police Officer Paul Katuszonek, who had stopped at a roadwork site near Grayson.

Tuesday’s hearing gave Katuszonek’s family and friends an opportunity to speak in court about the impact of his death before Hermosillo was formally sentenced.

“People will say this is an accident, this man taking away Paul’s life,” Katuszonek’s uncle John Galgiani told the judge. “I say no.”

He said Hermosillo knew what he was doing, driving for long periods of time without sleep. “He just didn’t care. And that’s obvious from the witnesses who were behind him. ... He was weaving for miles,” Galgiani told the judge.

Hermosillo sat quietly in the courtroom, listening to what was said with the help of a Spanish-language interpreter. Deputy Public Defender Maureen Keller, Hermosillo’s court-appointed attorney, told the judge that she and her client did not wish to make any statements in the courtroom Tuesday.

On May 20, the truck driver pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges in the November 2012 deadly crash.

Hermosillo, 45, initially was charged with felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. The defendant also was charged with a misdemeanor of driving more hours than allowed under federal guidelines.

At the conclusion of a preliminary hearing, Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova determined there was enough evidence for Hermosillo to stand trial. But the judge also decided to reduce the defendant’s felony charge to a misdemeanor based on the facts of the offense and Hermosillo’s criminal record.

Deputy District Attorney Anthony Colacito said Hermosillo had two previous misdemeanor convictions: petty theft and battery on a spouse causing injury. The prosecutor opposed reducing the defendant’s felony to a misdemeanor.

But the judge granted the defense’s request to reduce the felony charge. Hermosillo then decided to plead guilty to the two misdemeanor charges, according to Colacito.

Barbara Galgiani, Katuszonek’s aunt, told the judge she disagreed with his decision to reduce the felony charge to a misdemeanor. She said the officer was like a son to her, and she was at his side while he underwent chemotherapy.

Katuszonek successfully fought off cancer. “And exactly six months later, (Hermosillo) destroyed all that,” Barbara Galgiani said.

Córdova told her that he understands why she disagrees with his decision to reduce the felony. “I can’t begin to understand the pain you’re feeling,” the judge told her.

In October, Katuszonek’s widow and his daughter were awarded an $8.5 million settlement in a wrongful-death lawsuit against Gold Star Foods Inc., a food distribution and long-haul trucking company that employed Hermosillo. He no longer works for the company.

Katuszonek had stopped on Highway 132 for a road closure about a mile east of Faust Road.

Authorities have said the big rig Hermosillo was driving slammed into the back of the officer’s Honda.

Hermosillo had been driving for nearly 23 hours with only 41/2 hours of rest when his big rig barreled into the back of Katuszonek’s Honda at 55 mph, according to Steven Fabbro, the Katuszonek family’s attorney in the civil case. Fabbro also has said Hermosillo falsified his driver logs to make his drive times comply with the law.

The crash killed Katuszonek instantly. It propelled the car stopped in front of him into state Department of Transportation worker Brian Smith, who suffered severe injuries.

Oakdale Police Chief Lester Jenkins said Katuszonek was an effective officer, so the city suffered from his loss, as well. “He was a very dear friend to everyone who works at the Police Department, and I consider myself one of those people,” Jenkins told the judge Tuesday.

The prosecutor said in court that this crash should serve as a cautionary tale for other commercial drivers. Colacito said if drivers choose money over the safety of other people, they are “gambling” with the lives of others.

Ultimately, Hermosillo was sentenced to 360 days in jail. He had already spent 180 days in jail and was given 180 days of credit for good behavior while in custody. Hermosillo was released from jail May 20.

The defendant was ordered to serve three years of probation, and his driver’s license is revoked for three years.

The judge told Hermosillo that if he ever gets his driver’s license back, he should recognize the tremendous responsibility and take it seriously, so a crash like the one that took Katuszonek’s life never happens again.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or (209) 578-2394. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeeCourts.

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