By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
MARTINEZ, Calif. – The Martinez Police Department remembered the life of Sgt. Paul Starzyk Sunday morning with the raising of the American and California flags, a ceremony it has observed annually since Starzyk lost his life in the line of duty.
This year, however, the two banners were lowered to half staff in recognition of the loss of other agencies’ officers in recent weeks.
Starzyk, 47, was killed Sept. 6, 2008, when he and another Martinez officer, Ian Leong, responded to a report that an armed man had entered his estranged wife’s hair salon on Pacheco Boulevard.
The man threatened his daughter, then began searching the nearby apartment building he and his wife owned, according to an account published by the California Peace Officers’ Memorial Foundation.
The officers followed the sound of screams coming from an upstairs apartment. The man, identified as Felix Sandoval, fired a revolver from behind the door, striking Starzyk twice above his protective vest, according to the Foundation’s account.
Despite his fatal wounds, Starzyk joined Leong in returning fire on the suspect, the Foundation’s account said. Martinez Cpl. Glenn Walkup released Enzo, his German shepherd, who pulled the suspect by his legs.
When Walkup saw the man aiming his weapon at the dog, the corporal fired twice. At that point, according to a statement by then-Police Chief Tom Simonetti, “The confrontation [was] over.”
The officers found Catalina Torres, 44, dead in the apartment, but two other women and three children survived the encounter.
But Starzyk, a 12-year veteran of the Martinez Police Department, died of his wounds. At his funeral five days later, friends spoke of his humor and his leadership. More than 3,500 attended. Starzyk left a wife and three children.
At Sunday’s memorial flag raising, the city’s new police chief, Manjit Sappal, said Starzyk “knowingly and willingly placed himself in harm’s way,” but was able to respond and fatally wound his assailant even after he himself had been shot.
“He didn’t falter. He didn’t hesitate,” Sappal said.
Praising Starzyk’s courage and valor, Sappal said his “heroic and decisive actions” saved the surviving women and children, and that the fallen officer would always be remembered.
“For me, it’s an opportunity to reflect, to honor Paul for the sacrifice he did make, even knowing that the sacrifice would be a hardship to his family,” said Starzyk’s widow, Shannon.
Some members of the public are starting to show increased support for law enforcement in recent days, reacting to the on-duty deaths of officers from several agencies.
Those include Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz of Fox Lake, Ill., Police Department, who died Sept. 1 after saying he was looking into something suspicious, and a Harris County, Texas, deputy, Darren Goforth, who was shot multiple times Aug. 28 as he fueled his patrol car. Police departments across the nation have lowered their flags to honor them.
But for Shannon Starzyk, Martinez residents have been lifting her up since 2008.
“They have supported me from the time it happened to the present,” she said. “The community has supported me and the family.”