Feb. 13, 1953 a Laguna Beach police officer, Gordon G. French, was shot in the line of duty and died en route to the Santa Ana Hospital. This tragic, presumably preventable, death was the catalyst for building South Coast Community Hospital. The community formed a corporation dedicated to funding and operating a hospital and organized an intense campaign. The Irvine Foundation gave the 22-acre site (valued at $60,000) and the grading ($55,000.) Five thousand people from San Clemente to Laguna Beach contributed to match the Federal government grant, funding a total construction cost of $1.5 million for the initial phase of 74 beds. There was so much enthusiasm and dedication to the cause that it seemed every event included some way to donate to the hospital—from round robin bridge, spaghetti dinners at $1 a plate, to opera concerts in Irvine Bowl. Even linens were locally sewn and donated.
That hospital, now Mission Hospital, Laguna Beach, has provided immediately available emergency and community health services for 54 years, and doubtless many lives have been saved. The story of the creation of the hospital always includes officer French, giving his life and his death on-going and memorable significance.
Now another Laguna Beach police officer, Jon Coutchie, has died while attempting to deter a speeding vehicle. The police force, staff at city hall and community mourn. Can we make something similarly meaningful from this tragedy?
Driving home on Coast Highway last evening I was more aware than usual of the speed limit. It wasn’t easy to stay at 40 miles per hour while being passed by a steady stream of cars going much faster. It’s not only the cars, but I am feeling the pace of life quicken along with the improving economy. The sadness and vertigo we felt as the economy crashed has been taken over by a sense of urgency. Stress is building up. Our collective blood pressure is rising again.
Local proposals for projects and changes are coming forward. Wanting more of everything Laguna has to offer for ourselves has become more of a focus. Conflicts over a village entrance and funding are consuming our consciousness.
Speed and pressure kills not only a fine member of our police force, but also on a community-wide level. It thwarts warmth and humanity, consideration for the overall welfare.
That’s what the police are here for, to represent the overall welfare and to let us know when we’ve let our own self-interest cross over the line. Sometimes they pay the ultimate price for providing that service.
We could do this for ourselves.
Slow down. Love life. Officer Jon Coutchie sends us a message. Do we need it on a bumper sticker?
Landscape architect Ann Christoph formerly served on Laguna’s City Council.
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