Flags were raised only to half-mast in Laguna Beach in recognition of the service of Officer Jon Coutchie, who died in the line of duty in a traffic collision late Saturday, the city manager announced on Monday.
Informal shrines overflowed with flowers and flags at Cleo Street and Coast Highway, the scene of the fatality, at the police department and on a Laguna Canyon hillside by Monday.
Coutchie was the second officer in the department to die in the line of duty in 60 years “The department’s devastated,” Capt. Jason Kravetz said. “Nobody’s ever gone through this.” The previous on-duty death in the 90-person department, which includes 47 sworn officers, was the shooting of Gordon French in 1953, whose fatal injury instigated the building of a local hospital.
Coutchie, a four-year officer and military veteran, died after being struck by a southbound pickup that turned in front of him on Coast Highway at Cleo Street about 11:45 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21, Aaron Rothberg, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol, which is investigating the collision, said on Monday.
The truck’s driver, a 20-year-old Irvine man, cooperated with investigators and was released at the scene without being cited or charged, Rothberg said. Neither alcohol nor drugs is suspected in the collision at the traffic-signal controlled intersection, he said. Investigators are trying to determine the speed of Coutchie’s motorcycle and whether its lights were on as well as review video footage from surveillance cameras in the area, he said.
One of the arriving officers went to a nearby market and grabbed an American flag, returning to the accident scene to drape Coutchie’s body, as an honor to his sacrifice as an Army Ranger and police officer, Kravetz said in a statement.
Coutchie was northbound on Coast Highway in search of a car reported speeding through the downtown area that had eluded another officer, said Kravetz, who added that the motorcycle officer was not engaged in a high speed pursuit.
Couchie, a native of Tucson, Ariz., grew up in Orange County where he graduated from Laguna Hills High School in 1989. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he enlisted for military service and served as an Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003-2007.
After receiving an honorable discharge, Coutchie applied to the department for a job as a part-time jailer. Seeing his potential, the department sponsored his training at Huntington Beach’s Golden West Police Academy in 2008. He completed training the following year and was sworn in as a Laguna officer, said a department statement.
Coutchie showed a passion for traffic issues and displayed expertise in accident investigation. Following this interest, he applied and was selected for one of the coveted motor officer positions in March, Kravetz said in a statement.
“We will forever miss and love Jon here at the Police Department and will grieve along with the citizens of this community,” Kravetz’ statement said.
Coutchie is survived by his parents, a brother, step-sister and a girlfriend.
Services have yet to be announced.