SAN MARTIN — An off-duty California Highway Patrol officer remembered as a mentor to dozens of younger officers died early Tuesday when his motorcycle collided with a truck on his way to work, authorities said.
The Santa Clara County Coroner’s Office identified the motorcyclist as James Branik, 44, of Morgan Hill. Branik worked as a CHP officer in the Bay Area since about 2005, first at the San Jose area office and then at the Gilroy Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Facility off Highway 101 between Morgan Hill and Gilroy.
“He was dedicated to the job,” said Officer Ross Lee, who worked with Branik in San Jose. “He was a very knowledgeable guy and took the job very seriously.”
The crash was reported at 5:51 a.m. on Monterey Highway south of Chester Avenue in San Martin. According to the CHP, Branik was southbound on his 2005 Suzuki motorcycle when the driver of a northbound Chevrolet pickup truck made a left turn into the motorcycle’s path.
Branik hit the right-front section of the truck and suffered major injuries, the CHP said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
The pickup driver, a 47-year-old Gilroy resident, stopped after the collision, and was not immediately arrested or cited. The fatal crash remains under investigation, and the CHP said alcohol or drugs to not appear to be a factor in the case.
CHP investigators spent most of Tuesday examining the crash site on Monterey Highway. At 11 a.m., debris from the crash remained in the street, in front of a mini mart and gas station near Chester Avenue.
Cal Fire personnel responded to the scene with an American flag to pay tribute to the fallen officer.
Lee said Branik’s former colleagues at the San Jose office were shocked by the news of his death, as many officers in the San Jose office received patrol training from Branik. Lee himself saw Branik as a mentor in his early years with the agency.
“He was someone I looked up to,” Lee said.
Tuesday’s collision was similar in nature to a June 2016 crash that killed San Jose police Officer Michael Katherman, who was on duty on a police motorcycle on North 10th Street in San Jose when a van driver turned left onto Horning Street and into Katherman’s path.
Anyone with information about the collision can contact Officer Sean Nichols at the Hollister-Gilroy area CHP office at 408-848-2324.
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