Los Angeles Times

'He lived a life dedicated to service'

Hundreds turned out Friday to remember Laguna Beach officer Jon Coutchie, a man who, many recalled, always finished what he started, didn't make a big fuss about things and was serious yet had a witty side.

The stories recounted by friends, family and colleagues elicited laughs through tears during the memorial held for the 41-year-old motorcycle officer at Mariners Church in Irvine.

Coutchie died while on-duty late Saturday. He was riding his department motorcycle near South Coast Highway and Cleo Street when he hit the side of a pickup turning left.

His death marked the first on-duty death in 60 years for the department, Laguna police said.

His boots and helmet — the same ones Coutchie was wearing the night he died — sat on a pedestal on the church's main stage.

Officials from all over paid their respects, including Visalia, Torrance, Westminster and Irvine police departments, as well as Laguna Beach firefighters, marine safety personnel and Mayor Kelly Boyd.

State Attorney General Kamala Harris spoke during the eulogy.

"I had a wonderful conversation with his family," Harris told mourners, "and it became so clear he lived a life dedicated to service. The state and nation owe him and you [law enforcement officers] a debt of gratitude. Officer Jon Coutchie made the ultimate sacrifice for Laguna Beach, but not before making the world a better place."

Coutchie is survived by his mother, Luciana Coutchie; father, Robert Coutchie; brother, Rob Coutchie; stepmother, Mikki Coutchie; stepsister, Katrina Green; and girlfriend, Tara Young.

Born in Tucson, Ariz., Coutchie was raised in Orange County and graduated from Laguna Hills High School in 1989.

A slideshow revealed glimpses of Coutchie's life.

"He was a like a brother," high school friend Karen Caputo said. "He teased and yelled at me, but that was a way of showing he cared. He was stubborn and honest. I trusted him with my life. He loved all of you [Laguna Beach police], and I know he would be honored for all the respect he's been shown."

Morgan Christen, who met Coutchie on the Laguna Hills High School wrestling team, remembered a more youthful moment.

"I was part of his first arrest, the wrong part of the law," Christen told the audience, eliciting laughs. "We were minors in possession of alcohol, a bottle of schnapps. Looking back, I thank the officer. Poor Lucy [Coutchie's mother]."

Coutchie enlisted in the military 2003 and became an Army Ranger. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan before being honorably discharged in 2007.

He joined the Laguna Beach Police Department in 2009 and developed a passion for the traffic division, becoming adept at accident investigation, according to the memorial program.

Cpl. David McGill, a fellow motorcycle officer, attested to Coutchie's enthusiasm.

"I've never had as many calls as I did from Jon during [his] motor training," McGill said. "He would call me two, three times a day saying how much fun he was having."

Laguna Police Chief Paul Workman said Coutchie upheld his oath as a public servant.

"Our community lost a protector and our country lost a warrior," Workman said. "He was smart, strong, and I was proud to work next to him. Jon epitomized a warrior and peacekeeper."

The 9/11 attacks struck a chord with Coutchie, sparking his interest in helping his country, Workman noted.

"Jon had an epiphany after Sept. 11," Workman said. "The man he had been was not the man he was going to become. Jon swore an oath and went to war. When the time came to return home, he chose to continue a life of service, to do what he could do to make the community a safer place.

"Swearing an oath is a great responsibility. With great responsibility comes great risk."

Young, Coutchie's girlfriend, spoke of Coutchie's endearing qualities. The two first met in junior high school, she said.

"[In junior high] I let him know I was too shy to talk to a cute boy," Young said. "I didn't know at that time that [he] would steal my heart. I would melt when I saw his smile."

She remembered a recent trip the two took to Scottsdale, Ariz. She made reservations in her name, and during check-in at the hotel, the employee called him "Mr. Young."

"We both laughed," she said. "Jon said, 'That's OK, I like to be undercover.' I miss him calling me 'Sweetie.' One of his last text messages said: 'Good night, sweets. I'm going to get an early rest.' Oh, how those words take on new meaning."

A Laguna Beach resident who wishes to remain anonymous donated a private jet to fly Coutchie's body to Yuma, Ariz., where he will be buried next to his grandfather on Sunday, Laguna Beach Capt. Jason Kravetz said.

Workman presented the U.S. flag, which had wrapped Coutchie's casket, to his mother, while a California Highway Patrol official gave the California state flag to Young.

The Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs is collecting donations on behalf of the Laguna Beach Police Employees Assn. for the family's funeral expenses.

Donations are tax deductible through the AOCDS Memorial Fund. Donations can be made at http://www.aocds.org or by check. Reference Laguna Beach Police Officer Jon Coutchie in the memo section, and make the check payable to AOCDS Memorial Fund, 1314 West Fifth St., Suite A, Santa Ana, CA. 92703.

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