A large motorcade of law enforcement officers escorted the body of Laguna Beach police Officer Jon Coutchie back to familiar turf in Laguna Beach on Tuesday, two days after his death in the line of duty as a result of a traffic collision, police said.
The entire department was expected to welcome the slain officer alongside his survivors at McCormick’s Mortuary in Laguna Canyon, said Capt. Jason Kravetz.
A public service is planned at Irvine’s Mariner’s Church at 11 a.m. Friday, Sept. 27. Coutchie is to be buried next to his grandfather’s grave in Yuma, Ariz. A graveside service is planned for Sunday, Sept. 29, and will be attended by the entire department, Kravetz said. While staff will drive, Coutchie’s body will be flown via a private jet donated by a local resident who requested anonymity, Kravetz said.
On Monday, flags flew at half-staff in Laguna Beach and Sacramento in recognition of Coutchie’s service at the direction of the city manager and the governor. Informal shrines overflowed with flowers and tribute notes at Cleo Street and Coast Highway, the scene of the fatality, in the police department’s lobby and with a projected flag visible in the evening hours on a Laguna Canyon hillside.
Coutchie, 41, of Dana Point, was the second officer in the department to die in the line of duty in 60 years. “The department’s devastated,” said Kravetz. “Nobody here’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’s death elicited tributes from residents and visitors who had encountered him, including a citizen’s commendation the day prior to his death.
“We had a bad traffic accident Friday night and Officer Coutchie was the responder,” said resident Janette Maestre. “He was the nicest man, so caring and patient, and made a traumatic event easier to get through.
“I was impressed with how he was giving advice to the younger guys documenting the damage in a very professional but almost big brotherly way,” Maestre said. “Just breaks my heart to hear this happened. Our thoughts and heartfelt sympathy go out to his family and those he worked with everyday in the department.”
“He was not only helpful, but was such a gentleman…so soft spoken, so calm, so reassuring that all would be taken care of for me,” said Arizona visitor Margo Rubenstein, who described her experience when Coutchie responded to a July 3 hit and run collision on Ramona Street.
“I will continue to speak his name in the utmost of respect,” Rubenstein said in an email.
“I had the pleasure of meeting Officer Coutchie,” Ali Izad added in a post on the Indy’s Facebook page. “The world has lost one of the nicest and finest officers.”
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. There are no visible skid marks at the intersection.
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. He served two tours of duty each in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003-2007 as a Ranger sergeant, the special operations force of the U.S. Army based at Ft. Benning, Ga. Coutchie had a military security clearance and sidestepped discussing his military service, Kravetz said.
After receiving an honorable discharge, Coutchie applied for a job as a part-time jailer with the department where a former classmate, Jeff Calvert, worked. Seeing his potential, the department sponsored Coutchie’s training at Huntington Beach’s Golden West Police Academy in 2008. He completed training and the following year 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 in March for one of the department’s three coveted motor officer positions, Kravetz said in a statement.
Coutchie is survived by his parents, a brother, step-sister and a girlfriend.