The widow and baby of an Oakdale, California police officer who was killed in a traffic crash last year have been awarded $8.5 million in a wrongful death settlement, which could quite possibly be the largest award in Stanislaus County’s history.
The family of Paul Katuszonek was awarded the settlement last month from Gold Star Foods Inc., a food distribution and long-haul trucking company that employed the driver who was responsible for the fatal accident on Highway 132 one year ago.
The driver, Jose Santos Hermosillo, was charged with vehicular manslaughter, and with gross negligence, a felony. He could not be reached for comment.
Hermosillo was also charged with a crime applicable to truck drivers for driving more hours than allowed under the federal guidelines. Hermosillo had been driving for close to 23 hours with only four and a half hours’ rest when his truck ran into the back of officer Katuszonek’s car at 55 mph.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 crashes each year, resulting in 40,000 injuries and contributing to 1,550 deaths.
Gold Star CEO, Dan Madsen said that he did not want to comment on the civil case or the criminal charges against Hermosillo, who is no longer an employee.
The driver, Hermosillo, had falsified his driver logs to make his drive times comply with the law. Records from the GPS system on the Gold Star truck proved that Hermosillo actually was driving when he reported resting. It appears that when Hermosillo said he was in his camper berth resting at 7:30 a.m., he was already on Highway 5 heading north.
Four hours later, Katuszonek was on his way to work from dropping his daughter off at his mother-in-law’s home. He stopped on Highway 132 for a road closure, where the tragic accident occurred.
It was reported by witnesses that Hermosillo’s truck was weaving as it approached the construction zone, and Hermosillo never attempted to stop until he was about 100 feet from Katuszonek’s car. This was a clear case of driver fatigue.
The impact killed Katuszonek instantly. His car propelled the car that was stopped in front of him into state Department of Transportation worker, Brian Smith, who was flagging motorists to stop. Smith was injured.
Hermosillo also faces an enhancement for inflicting great bodily injury on Smith, which could add time to his sentence if convicted.
Paul Katuszonek’s $8.5 million settlement came last month, nine days before a jury trial was scheduled to begin.
This was a tragic case of wrongful death. Katuszonek was driving to work after taking his baby girl to her grandma’s when the sleep deprived truck driver plowed into his car, taking the life of a husband and father forever. The truck driver falsified his driving log, obviously knowing that what he was doing was illegal. Do you think this was a fair settlement?
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