Laguna Beach police officer Jon Coutchie was headed north on Coast Highway… (Laguna Beach Police Department )
The call came over the police radio late Saturday, during what so far had been a routine shift for Laguna Beach police Officer Jon Coutchie.
Hey, there's a car speeding through town.
Coutchie responded without hesitation, as he had done so many times before. The 41-year-old mounted his motorcycle to try to cut off the car before it reached downtown, where partygoers filled the sidewalks and spilled into the streets.
Coutchie was headed north on Coast Highway at about 11:30 p.m. when his Honda ST1300 collided with a GMC pickup truck making a left turn on Cleo Street. The officer flew off the motorcycle. By the time two of his colleagues arrived on the scene, Coutchie had succumbed to his injuries and died.
The two police sergeants ran into a nearby Ralphs supermarket and grabbed an American flag. They draped it over Coutchie's body to honor the sacrifices he had made as an Army Ranger and police officer.
Coutchie's death left the tightknit Laguna Beach Police Department reeling. He was the department's first officer to die in the line of duty since 1953.
"It is with the heaviest of heart that we announce the death of one of our motor officers," Capt. Jason Kravetz said in a statement. "Please understand that our Police Department is suffering from this tragic loss."
The California Highway Patrol is investigating the crash, and the driver of the pickup is cooperating with officers, said agency spokesman Aaron Rothberg. It is unclear whether Coutchie had his lights or sirens on, Rothberg said.
Coutchie was born in Tucson and raised in Orange County. He graduated from Laguna Hills High School in 1989. From 2003 to 2007, he served as a U.S. Army Ranger and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, Kravetz said.
After an honorable discharge, he joined the Laguna Beach Police Department as a part-time jailer.
"He quickly showed great enthusiasm for his job and excelled with each assignment," Kravetz said.
In 2008, the department sponsored him through the Goldenwest Police Academy. At age 37, he underwent the strenuous training with much younger rookies, but his maturity enabled him to excel, Kravetz said.
As soon as he completed the training in March 2009, he was sworn in as a Laguna Beach police officer. He took his job seriously, treating his colleagues and the citizens he encountered with respect, Kravetz said.
"Jon showed a passion for traffic issues and displayed an early expertise in accident investigation," Kravetz said.
Coutchie was affable and well-liked, and his dedication helped him land the coveted position of motor officer, Kravetz said. He got that job in March.
"We will forever miss and love Jon here at the Police Department and will grieve along with the citizens of this community," Kravetz said in the statement.