Off-duty police officer picks up gas tab for city man

Published: 8/9/2016 2:58:05 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A convenience store interaction with a police officer Monday changed the course of one man’s day from an ordeal to a pleasant experience.

The blip of the gaslight on Paul Zabawa’s car dashboard prompted him to stop at the King Street Speedway near his Northampton home. He paid for gas with the only cash on him, $1.79.

Zabawa started to fill up his car. By the time he realized he was at the wrong pump, he’d already pumped $20 worth of gas.

He wasn’t sure why a pump he hadn’t paid for was pumping gas at all, but he did know he couldn’t pay for all that gas. The station attendant said he’d have to call the police and took down Zabawa’s license plate number.

The attendant gave him back his $1.79, and he used a dollar to buy a lottery ticket in hopes that he could win enough to cover the $20. He won back a dollar.

Then Northampton Police Officer Michael Szawlowski, on his way to a detail, came into the convenience store to buy a water. Zabawa and the clerk asked if he could take a report there, but Zabawa said Szawlowski told them they would have to call the Police Station.

Szawlowski left, but a minute later, he returned.

“How much?” he asked the attendant. He resolved the debt, and Zabawa thanked him.

“If I could ever pay you back,” Zabawa started.

“Don’t worry about it at all,” Szawlowski said.

Szawlowski wasn’t looking for attention from the deed, he said Tuesday, nor did he think much of it. It was just a way to resolve an awkward situation without troubling anyone else.

“I just felt bad, because it was kind of a misunderstanding,” he said.

Zabawa, who is 53 and semi-retired, said Tuesday he had never had an experience like that and thought it was meant to be.

“Officers are taking a lot of flak for negativity,” he said. “There are good people out there.”


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