California Highway Patrol Officer James Branik, 44, loved his family and was passionate about cars. He also loved being a CHP officer.
Last Wednesday, Branik was killed in a motorcycle accident in San Martin. James was a man of deep conviction, tenacity, loyalty, and passion for life and for those he loved.
“For most people, a job is a means to an end,” Scott Morris, Officer Branik’s brother in law said. “For James, his work was a fulfillment of who he was created to be.”
Officer Branik was born on March 1, 1973, to Lawrence P. Branik and Charlotte A. Branik. He was a graduate of Leigh High School in San Jose, where he was a member of the 1991 CCS championship basketball team. He entered the California Highway Patrol Police Academy in 2004 and graduated on January 28, 2005.
“He was quietly tenacious and fiercely loyal,” said Morris. “When you would talk to him you wouldn’t know the impact that he had on the department.
“He was someone that people went to when they needed help. You knew, if you went to James, he was going to be there for you and he was going to have a piece of knowledge or wisdom to help you.”
Branik was a devoted husband to his wife, Gina Baiza-Branik. The couple had three dogs whom they adored. Morris described Officer Branik as a lover of animals, but the attention he paid to his nieces and nephews was appreciated.
“He had eight nieces and nephews and he was a great uncle,” Morris said. “The intensity that they showed as a cop was very different when he was at home. When he was around the kids, he would clown around. He would talk with my son about being a police officer and what the laws meant and he would play ‘pretty, pretty princess’ with my daughter. It was so funny to see Officer Branik wearing a tiara with my daughter. He had such a rich, warm heart.”
Officer Branik met Gina in 1995 at a Mennonite youth event. The couple went out to play pool on their first date and two years later they were married. From the mundane of life to the intimate recesses of the soul, James and Gina wereinseparable.
Officer Branik was also a person who refused to give up.
“He applied to the police academy seven times; it was what he wanted to do,” Morris said. “It was hard, but he never let it get him down. It was inspiring to see someone who truly wanted something and who was not ready to accept failure. You wouldn’t have known it to talk to him. He didn’t sit around and complain. He just kept trying.”
When off duty, Branik’s love of cars followed him him home. He worked restoring cars, including the complete restoration of a 1968 Camaro and a 1965 Ford Fairlane.
“He loved muscle cars; you could always tell when James was coming down the road,” Morris said. “From the time he was 2-years old, he was on his back watching a neighbor fix a dune buggy. He just loved cars and trucks. It was in his soul. The fact he became a CHP officer was beautiful.”
Officer Branik was born and raised in San Jose, but moved to Morgan Hill in 2012.
“He loved being in Morgan Hill, it was his home” Morris said.