About 200 residents joined most of Laguna Beach’s 84-person police department this past Sunday at the dedication of “Eternal Legacy,” a sculpture installation in memory of two police officers who died in the line of duty 60 years apart.
Constructed of glass and brass, materials both fragile and strong, the work is “intended to celebrate the accomplishments and the sacrifices” of the officers, Laguna Beach artist Michele Taylor told the crowd assembled near the police department’s public entrance on Loma Place.
She and another local artist, sculptor Gerard Stripling, scrambled to install the work by Sept. 21, marking the first anniversary of motor Officer Jon Coutchie’s death in a traffic accident last year.
“Eternal Legacy” became the 52nd piece of public art commissioned by the city and came at the urging of the police employees association, which underwrote its cost with $100,000 in contributions, association president Larry Bammer said.
At the center of the brass structure that undulates like a flag unfurling is an orange resin sculpture to denote an eternal flame, and glass insets with the words “Honor,” “Courage,” “Duty” and “Remember,” all of which are internally illuminated. Inlaid inscriptions and plaques on the sculpture and the surrounding concrete base can be viewed from stone-topped benches around the sculpture, a space intended to evoke a mood of reflection, says the artists’ statement.
Arts Commissioner Lisa Mansour praised the artists for creating “an inspiring work.” And Mayor Elizabeth Pearson said the monument will serve as a public reminder of the service and duty of police officers.
A less visible but equally important memorial emerged as a result of the department’s first on-duty death in 1953, said retiring police Chief Paul Workman, who after the memorial’s unveiling described in detail how Officer Gordon French was taken hostage while booking a fraud suspect whose handgun escaped notice.
During the suspect’s escape, he fired a single round at French and fled and was later found in a Dana Point hotel where he had taken his own life, Workman said.
French, 49, a three-year member of the department, died from blood loss before he reached Hoag Hospital 10 miles away, Workman said. Fire department personnel then were not trained as paramedics, he said
Because French’s wound was considered survivable, a devastated community was galvanized to build the former South Coast Medical Center, and new hires were required to attend police academy before joining the force, said Workman, both consequences of French’s death. French’s widow attended the 1973 dedication of a plaque at the hospital in her husband’s memory, Workman said.
Coutchie, 41, an Army Ranger veteran of four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, joined the department in 2008 at the urging of friend Jeff Calvert. “He’s still in our hearts,” said Workman. Indeed, the non-sworn force on Sunday, as well as Coutchie’s mother, all wore matching t-shirts with Coutchie’s M-13 call sign, 45, the police station’s number, and blue line, a representation of officers killed in the line of duty.
The memorial provides a place for public recognition in perpetuity, Workman said. “They may not know Gordon or Jon, but they will know these men are honored,” he said.
Local residents, retired Gen. Lee and Dorene Butler, received a special plaque recognizing their contributions to the memorial during the ceremony.
Also singled out for recognition were Coutchie’s parents, Luciana and Bob. Also present was Shaun Millard, of Hong Kong, a former Army Ranger who served with Coutchie.
During the hour-long ceremony, the department received just five calls for service, handled by a few units that remained in the field, Capt. Jason Kravetz said.