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Police seek hit-and-run driver

| Thursday, May 10, 2012, 2:45 a.m.

Law enforcement authorities from across the region were put on alert Sunday for a hit-and-run vehicle that struck and seriously injured a New Florence Borough police officer Saturday.

Patrolman Michael Paul Bandzej Jr., 49, of Johnstown, was conducting a traffic stop in New Florence at 2:43 a.m. Saturday when he was struck near the intersection of Ligonier and Fifth streets, according to state police in Greensburg, who are investigating the incident.

State police said Bandzej had pulled over Frank Walter Pawelkoski, 36, of New Florence, and was attempting to make a drunken-driving arrest when Pawelkoski punched the officer in the face. During the struggle, Bandzej was forced to retreat, stepping backward onto Ligonier Street, where he was struck by a southbound vehicle.

That vehicle -- which state police described as a dark-colored, 1995 or newer model, possibly a Pontiac Grand Am or Chevrolet Cavalier -- failed to stop at the scene. Police believe the vehicle has damage to the right front headlight and quarter panel.

As Bandzej lay seriously injured in the middle of the road, police allege Pawelkoski also fled the scene, driving away in the injured officer's marked patrol car.

A local resident whom police did not identify "quickly rushed" to Bandzej's aid. Bandzej was taken to Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center, Johnstown, where he was listed in stable condition on Sunday.

Ligonier Borough Police found Pawelkoski and the patrol vehicle several miles away, at Stacy's Trailer Park on Route 711 in St. Clair Township.

Pawelkoski is charged with three counts of aggravated assault, two counts of theft and one count of resisting arrest. He was arraigned Sunday evening before District Justice James Albert, of Greensburg, in Westmoreland County Night Court and lodged in the county prison in lieu of $50,000 bail.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact state police at 724-832-3288.

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