City mourns Laguna motorcycle officer

Authorities continued to investigate the circumstances surrounding a collision that killed a 41-year-old Laguna Beach police officer Saturday — the first on-duty death in 60 years.

Jon Coutchie was riding a motorcycle north on South Coast Highway when a 1997 GMC pickup attempted to turn left onto Cleo Street at 11:44 p.m., said Aaron Rothberg, public information officer for the California Highway Patrol's Capistrano office on Monday.

Coutchie hit the truck's passenger side and was thrown from his motorcycle, according to Laguna Beach police and the CHP.

Police and fire officials provided medical aid, but Coutchie died at the scene, Laguna Beach Capt. Jason Kravetz said in an email.

The driver of the truck and its two passengers were not injured, and the driver was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the crash, Rothberg said.

Detectives are still trying to determine whether the truck driver turned on a red, yellow or green light, Rothberg said.

The light at South Coast Highway and Cleo Street does not have a green arrow, he added.

Coutchie had been with the department for four years. He was born in Tucson, Ariz., graduated from Laguna Hills High School and served as an Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003 to 2007, police said in a statement. Coutchie earned one of the coveted motorcycle officer positions in March.

Police have not released any information about a memorial service for Coutchie.

A roadside memorial has been set up at the intersection where the crash occurred. On Monday, bouquets of white, red and peach-colored roses framed a written message: "Jon we love you and miss you dearly. Thank you for your service and friendship. Forever in our [hearts] – M & R."

A Laguna Hills High School shirt sat among the flowers and American flags. Someone taped a copy of the U.S. Army's Ranger Creed to the pole of a stoplight.

"Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger, fully knowing the hazards of my chosen profession, I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor and high spirit of my Ranger Regiment," the creed read.

Police said Coutchie was trying to locate a car that had eluded another officer late Saturday.

One of the officers who arrived to the scene ran into the nearby Ralphs grocery store and grabbed an American flag, police said. Officers draped Coutchie's body in the flag in honor of his sacrifice as an Army Ranger and police officer.

City officials shared their condolences in prepared statements Monday, and City Manager John Pietig ordered flags flown at half-staff.

"This tragedy is an important reminder of how our Police Department puts its life on the line each and every day to protect all of us," Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson said.

Pietig relayed a message he heard from more than one city employee.

"Officer Coutchie would have wanted the department to continue protecting the community in spite of the tragic circumstances," he said.

[For the record, 8:20 a.m. Sept. 24: The photo captions in an earlier version of this post incorrectly spelled Officer Jon Coutchie's first name.]

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