Truck driver pleads guilty to misdemeanors in crash that killed Oakdale police officer

05/20/2014 2:41 PM

05/21/2014 1:02 PM

A truck driver on Tuesday pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges for a crash that resulted in the death of an Oakdale police officer who had stopped at a road work site near Grayson.

Defendant Jose Santos Hermosillo, 45, initially was charged with felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence in the November 2012 death of Paul Katuszonek. Hermosillo also was charged with a misdemeanor of driving more hours than allowed under federal guidelines.

At the conclusion of a preliminary hearing Tuesday morning, 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 his 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.

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

Hermosillo had been in jail since he was booked Nov. 22. He was released from custody Tuesday afternoon.

Córdova has scheduled Hermosillo to be formally sentenced in July. The attorneys have agreed that Hermosillo will be sentenced to the nearly six months he already has spent in the Stanislaus County Jail.

Katuszonek was on his way to work after dropping off his daughter at his mother-in-law’s home. He 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 just after he had stopped at the Caltrans construction zone.

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.

Hermosillo had been driving for nearly 23 hours with only 41/2 hours’ rest when his truck barreled into the back of Katuszonek’s car 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. His car propelled the car stopped in front of him into state Department of Transportation worker Brian Smith, who was flagging drivers to stop. Smith suffered severe injuries in the crash.

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