Off duty Lowell Police Officer Charles “PJ” Panek died Saturday night after jumping from a boat into the Merrimack River.
A 911 call, placed at 8:43 p.m., launched a massive search effort by Panek’s fellow officers. The search involved dive teams from the Lowell Fire and Police departments, Nashua Police, Massachusetts State Police and a state police helicopter crew using an infrared camera.
At 11:41pm, police divers located and pulled their fellow officer’s body from the water. Panek was pronounced dead at the scene.
According to The Lowell Sun Panek received the Medal of Valor from the Lowell Police Department in 2008 for his heroic actions in an incident outside Santoro’s Sub Shop in which he tackled, disarmed and arrested an armed man.
Four months later, Panek made a similar arrest of a violent suspect, Jorge Huertas, outside the same sub shop after a relentless pursuit. Huertas was a head taller and 80 pounds heavier than the 5-foot-10-inch, 160-pound Panek, who previously boxed as a welterweight in Lowell’s Golden Gloves, took Brazilian jujitsu classes and was a competitive long-distance runner.
Three times, Panek ran after and caught Huertas, but the suspect was able to escape each time, once after Huertas allegedly slammed the officer into a light post.
Catching up with Huertas a fourth time, Panek, nicknamed “PJ” by his family, used a chemical spray to subdue and arrest the suspect.
Panek was also a Marine Corps veteran and member of an airborne unit of the Rhode Island Army National Guard. Panek had already served a tour of duty in Iraq and was due to be deployed to Afghanistan with the National Guard. He was a boxer and practiced mixed martial arts.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic death of Lowell police officer Charles S. Panek,” said Lowell Superintendent Kenneth Lavallee. “Our thoughts, prayers, and deepest sympathies go out to the family of Officer Panek…Officer Panek will be sadly missed by all members of the Lowell Police Department and the citizens within our community,” said Lavallee.
An investigation into Panek’s death was being handled by the Tyngsborough Police Department, Massachusetts State Police and the Environmental Police.
We will post information on the funeral and walk-by arrangements as soon as they are made available.