Laguna Beach Police Officer Jon Coutchie memorialized as Aliso Creek Bridge is renamed in his honor
A moment a decade in the making proved a powerful one, perhaps a final chapter in a long effort to memorialize a fallen member of Laguna Beach’s law enforcement community.
A large crowd of Orange County peace officers and local community members turned out in South Laguna Thursday morning. The occasion saw the Aliso Creek Bridge renamed Officer Jon Coutchie Memorial Bridge, the ceremony taking place on the 10-year anniversary of Coutchie’s end of watch.
The Laguna Beach honor guard presented the colors, making their way down the bridge to the assembly area, played in by bagpipes. Coutchie’s parents, Robert and Luciana, made the trip into town from out of state.
State Sen. Janet Nguyen, who introduced the legislation seeking to rename the bridge in Coutchie’s honor, told the story of the incident that led to his death. A motor officer, Coutchie died in the line of duty in a collision at the intersection of Coast Highway and Cleo Street while in pursuit of a reckless driver on Sept. 21, 2013.
“Today, we stand at the Aliso Creek Bridge behind me, where we will bestow this honorary title of the Officer Jon Coutchie Memorial Bridge in recognition of his heroic act in selfless service to our community,” Nguyen said. “It will forever stand as a lasting tribute to a dedicated public servant who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Assemblywoman Diane Dixon and Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes both spoke to the risks associated with being public safety personnel. Dixon expressed gratitude to law enforcement members and their families, while Barnes said the bridge would serve as a reminder of the community’s responsibility to uphold the values that Coutchie and other fallen officers gave their lives to protect.
Coutchie attended nearby Laguna Hills High with Laguna Beach Police Chief Jeff Calvert, who said he was overwhelmed by a turnout of hundreds at the remembrance event. As he paid tribute to a lifelong friend, Calvert shared that Coutchie was an advocate against bullies and enlisted in the Army at the age of 31. He became an Army Ranger, serving four tours of duty — two each in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Calvert added that Coutchie became a founding member of the Laguna Beach honor guard. He received numerous commendations, a medal of merit and, posthumously, the police cross.
“Jon burned twice as bright and half as long,” Calvert said. “The city of Laguna Beach has 24,000 residents and 6.5 million visitors annually that drive through town and across this bridge to enjoy our amazing community. Jon’s mother, Luciana, cried when I told her about the bridge being dedicated to Jon. She said it was perfect because he drove across the bridge to and from his home in Dana Point to get to work, and it was an area that he routinely patrolled.
“Someone once said that you die twice — one time when you stop breathing, and a second time a bit later on when somebody says your name for the last time. The sign on the bridge will make certain Jon’s name is said every day and will ensure that his legacy of sacrifice and service to others will never be forgotten.”
Luciana got out of her seat and sought out Calvert for a hug at the end of his remarks.
Following the scheduled speakers, which also included Mayor Bob Whalen, those in attendance stood at attention as “Amazing Grace” was performed on bagpipes. Two Orange County Sheriff’s Department helicopters also flew over the ceremony, one veering off over the Pacific Ocean in a symbolic “Missing Man” maneuver.
Barnes took advantage of an opportunity to provide some levity to the proceedings. As a vehicle with loud exhaust passed, he quipped, “I know Jon would be chasing that guy right now.”
A sign commemorating Coutchie’s end of watch was put up at the intersection where his fatal collision occurred on Wednesday.
In keeping with a Laguna Beach police tradition, the department’s fallen officer remembrance ceremony was scheduled to take place on Thursday afternoon. It has been held on Sept. 21 every year since Coutchie’s passing.
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