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'Eternal Legacy' sculpture dedicated to fallen officers

'Eternal Legacy' sculpture dedicated to fallen officers
A Laguna Beach police officer stands guard next to the "Eternal Legacy" statue that was unveiled during a ceremony to honor Laguna Beach officers Jon Coutchie and Gordon French on Sunday at the Laguna Beach Police Department. (Susan Hoffman, Coastline Pilot)

Gordon French and Jon Coutchie had been with the Laguna Beach Police Department three and four years respectively before they died while on duty 60 years apart.

The dedication Sunday of a sculpture erected in their memory is a tangible reminder that each man's sacrifice will live on well into the future.

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Coutchie's mother and father joined city officials and the public outside police department headquarters in the late afternoon sun to catch a glimpse of "Eternal Legacy," designed and built by Laguna Beach artists Gerard Stripling and Michele Taylor.

The sculpture's unveiling came exactly one year since Coutchie died after the motorcycle he was riding crashed into a pickup truck trying to make a left turn from South Coast Highway onto Cleo Street at 11:45 p.m. Sept. 21, 2013.

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Coutchie was 41 and had joined the department in 2009 after serving military tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

French was 49 when a man trying to escape booking shot and killed him on Feb. 13, 1953. French had joined the department three years earlier, was married and had two children ages 12 and 7 at the time of his death, current Laguna Beach Police Chief Paul Workman said during a speech Sunday.

French died due to blood loss before he reached Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, the closest facility at that time, Workman continued.

In 1973, French's widow, Jean, dedicated a plaque to her late husband at South Coast Medical Center (now Mission Hospital) in South Laguna, Workman said.

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"Eternal Legacy" is made of bronze and stands 7 feet tall. It features an illuminated flame with the words "honor," "courage," "duty" and "remember," each cast in glass and placed throughout the design.

Three internally illuminated benches, each with a glass insert with the officers' badge numbers and call signs, surround the sculpture, along with succulents.

A wreath adorned with white lilies and roses from the current City Council rest on one of the benches.

Workman praised Stripling and Taylor's effort, from the design to the installation.

"For the last month, Gerard and Michele looked like laborers, with torn pants and shirts, working in the heat," Workman said. "You guys worked your rumps off. I have a whole new appreciation of artists."

Stripling said the sculpture was a group effort.

"With a project of this size it takes many people to coordinate," Stripling said. "I'd like to thank [Cultural Arts Manager] Sian Poeschl who organized the timeline so we could focus on design and construction, for the city getting the foundation ready, and for the officers' families and friends who gave us insight into each man's life, which we tried to put into the sculpture."

The Laguna Beach Police Employees' Assn. and Laguna Beach Community Foundation spearheaded a fundraising effort that netted more than $100,000 for the sculpture, which the Arts Commission recommended and City Council approved earlier this year.

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"Never did I think we would raise more than $100,000," said Police Employees' Assn. President Larry Bammer, who also credited Laguna Fire Capt. Andrew Hill for suggesting a memorial to honor French and Coutchie.

Bob Coutchie, Jon's father, thanked the city and the artists in an interview immediately following the ceremony, and said the sculpture should be a reminder that police officers' put their lives on the line daily for others.

"It's an impressive day," Coutchie said. "The sculpture is expressive of the city, showing it believes in and supports its police officers. It means a lot to me to have my son honored, but it means equally as much to know that Jon and Gordon represented us all. We should remember that police officers serve everybody."

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