At approximately 11:35 a.m. on September 6, 2008, Martinez PD was called to a domestic dispute at a hair salon on Pacheco Blvd., in Martinez. The salon owner’s estranged husband had entered the salon with a firearm looking for his wife. After threatening their daughter, who also works at the salon, Felix Sandoval moved his search to the apartment building the couple owned behind the salon.
Officer Ian Leong was the first to arrive at 11:37 a.m. Sgt. Paul Starzyk pulled up one minute later. Both officers pursued the suspect into the apartment complex, where they heard children’s screams coming from an upstairs unit. As they moved toward the unit, Sandoval blindly opened fire from behind the door with a .38-caliber revolver. Starzyk was hit twice in the upper body, just above his protective vest. Despite his wounds, which ultimately proved fatal, Starzyk returned fire along with Leong.
K-9 officer, Cpl. Glenn Walkup arrived on scene and pulled Starzyk clear. He then sent in his German shepherd, Enzo, who found Sandoval and dragged his legs into the doorway. “Walkup sees the suspect on his back with the gun pointed at the dog,” Martinez Police Chief Tom Simonetti said. “He shoots him twice. The confrontation is over.”
Leong made an Officer-Down call at 11:40 a.m., Simonetti said. Officers reported a Code 4 at 11:41 a.m. The entire encounter lasted six minutes. Once inside the apartment, authorities found 44-year-old Catalina Torres deceased in the kitchen. Two other women and three children were found in the apartment unharmed. One of the surviving women had witnessed Sandoval murder Torres – his wife’s cousin.
Sgt. Starzyk is survived by his wife Shannon, a sheriff’s deputy for Contra Costa County, and their three young children, Vincent, 6, Jacob, 4, and 20-month-old Jessica.
More than 3,500 people joined the Starzyk family at the Sleep Train Pavilion on September 11th to honor their fallen hero. The significance of the date was not lost on those in attendance. Reverend Robert Rien of St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church in Antioch told mourners that it was appropriate for Sgt. Starzyk to be honored on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 2001, when police officers and firefighters rushed into the World Trade Center to save those inside. “So too did Paul Starzyk rush into a darkened stairwell,” Rien said, adding that the sergeant “gave his life so that others may live.”
Sgt. Paul Starzyk “held that line,” said Chief Simonetti, addressing the congregation which included Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Attorney General Jerry Brown, and many county and local leaders. “And he refused to allow evil to cross over it.”
Sgt. Starzyk started his career in 1992 as a Reserve Officer in Martinez and became a Police Officer December 19, 1994. He joined the Pleasant Hill Police Department in May of 1996. Starzyk returned to the Martinez Police Department on April 15, 1997. He was first promoted to Corporal then to Sergeant on December 1, 2007. Starzyk also served as the agency’s SWAT team leader.
Sgt. Starzyk was remembered as a loyal friend with an offbeat sense of humor who held himself and others to a high standard. “Paul Starzyk led from the front,” said Adrian Smedley in eulogizing his friend. “I can still hear his voice now: ‘Keep your head up and your back straight.’
In addressing the Starzyk family, Chief Simonetti turned toward Shannon and told her three young children that their father was a hero whose “star will always shine down to watch over you.”