For a part-time police officer in a relatively sleepy town, Gerald Papineau seems to have his hands full.
Last week, the Waterbury officer chased down and caught two fugitives who were wanted for escaping from a work camp assignment in Montpelier.
Papineau, who has worked for the Waterbury Police since June, chased the inmates on foot for more than a half-mile before finding them hidden in some bushes. He drew his gun, and the pair surrendered.
It may seem like an extraordinary event, but for Papineau, it was just another day on the job.
In less than five months on the Waterbury police force, Papineau, 46, of East Montpelier, has caught one escaped mental patient with a violent history, was assaulted by an intoxicated man downtown, was the first responder to a horrific suicide where a local man drove his car into a wall and, most recently, apprehended the two fugitives.
This, according to police officials, is an extraordinary amount of activity for one police officer on any force — let alone the village police force, which officially protects only the village and its 2,000 or so residents.
“I will tell you, I have been here in Waterbury for a long time as a driver for UPS, and never had any idea how busy this police department was and the extent of what they deal with,” Papineau said.
The first episode
Within a few weeks of starting, Papineau experienced the first of what would be several harrowing episodes on the job.
On June 24, employees at Vermont State Hospital informed police that Anthony Gotavaskas, 24, of Montpelier, had escaped by climbing a fence outside the hospital.
A Duxbury man eventually picked him up. The man quickly figured out his passenger was the escaped patient that police were looking for. The driver flagged Papineau down and the officer promptly took a cooperative Gotavaskas into custody.
A few weeks later, Papineau was working nearby when a man committed suicide by driving his car into the wall across from the Exit 10 northbound off-ramp on Route 100, which caused the car to burst into flames. Papineau, the first to respond, was unable to remove the driver, who died immediately due to the impact.
“Of all the major incidents that one was the one that has the biggest impact on me,” he said.
Papineau’s wild tenure as a local cop continued in August, when he heard a report that a man was hit by a car on Main Street so he went to check on his condition.
Papineau confronted Keith Fowler — a 21-year-old Montpelier man who had been arrested twice in June for physical altercations with police. Fowler, according to police, then attacked Papineau and a five-minute physical struggle ensued, finally coming to an end when Papineau, with the help of a retired police officer who offered to help, was able to restrain and identify the man.
“This was the most exerting incident,” Papineau said.
Right place, right time
Joby Feccia, chief of the Waterbury police, said Papineau success in catching fugitives has been a product of the officer’s work ethic.
“He is a go-getter. He is out there and he is excited to be there. He really likes his job and he has been standing out,” Feccia said. “He uses common sense and he is in great physical shape. He was twice the age of one of those guys he ran down last week.”
But Papineau said he thinks he has merely been doing his job and has been at the right place and the right time.
“I think I am pretty lucky,” said Papineau, who has also worked as a game warden. “I do have good training and when I work, I work hard … but I don’t think I have done anything very special. I think any cop would have done the same things.”
He added, “I look at everyone of these situations as protecting Waterbury. I have worked in Waterbury for 16 years at UPS and even though I live in another town, I also consider Waterbury to be my home.”
Timeline of Gerald Papineau’s first few months on the Waterbury police force
June 24 — Just a few weeks after being hired, Papineau detains Anthony Gotavaskas, 24, of East Montpelier, after Gotavaskas escapes from the Vermont State Hospital.
July 2 — Papineau is the first officer to respond to a fatal car crash on Route 100. A Waterbury man had committed suicide by speeding off the Exit 10 northbound ramp and crashing into a wall.
Aug 21 — Papineau checks on a man who is allegedly hit by a car on Main Street. Keith Fowler — a 21-year-old Montpelier man who had been arrested twice in June for physical altercations with police — attacks Papineau, according to police. A five-minute struggle ensues until Papineau, with the help of a retired police officer, is able to restrain and identify the man.
Oct 9 — Papineau sees two men on Stowe Street and suspects, correctly, that they are Justin Cyr of Pownal and Alex Searle of Brandon — two inmates who had escaped from a work-camp assignment in Montpelier the day before. After chasing them for more than a half-mile, Papineau detains them.