Steamboat Springs There weren’t enough seats in the auditorium. There weren’t enough lines in the signature books for friends and relatives.
And there were nowhere near enough tissues Sunday at Steamboat Springs High School, where it felt like all of Steamboat Springs gathered to honor and remember native son Dale Coyner, a sergeant in the Steamboat Springs Police Department, a husband and a father, and a man unquestionably loved by the hundreds in attendance. A procession of law enforcement vehicles preceded the memorial service, driving slowly down Lincoln Avenue with lights flashing before turning toward the high school from which Coyner graduated in 1980 as an accomplished wrestler and state champion football player.
Coyner served with the Police Department since 1998. He died in his sleep early Dec. 4 after battling esophageal cancer following a diagnosis in summer.
“Being in law enforcement was a lifestyle for Dale, not just a job,” Police Capt. Joel Rae said to an auditorium filled to the last row. “His blood truly did run blue.”
Several law enforcement officers said Sunday’s service was the first multi-agency memorial in Steamboat Springs in well more than a decade. Uniformed officers from numerous agencies filled scores of seats in the auditorium. They stood as one near the end of the service and raised their hands in salute as, with all radios tuned to Routt County Law 1, Rae contacted county dispatch to acknowledge the “end of watch” for badge number Sam 6-4.
After a dispatcher announced the end of Coyner’s duties, every law enforcement agency in Routt County, from Colorado State Patrol to Colorado State Parks, from West Routt to Steamboat Lake to Stagecoach, had a representative respond to the call and thank Coyner for his service.
Rae, police detective Nick Bosick, Police Chief JD Hays and Glen Adams, Coyner’s longtime friend, spoke at the memorial service. Police chaplain Dave McKnight presided.
“He was the epitome of a perfect police officer,” Rae said, citing Coyner’s strong values, moral code and dedication to duty. “You just had to let him know what the problem or the issue was, and he would amaze you with the result.”
Rae said Coyner, who he called “a big, massive, behemoth of a man,” had a rare ability to communicate with people in any of the situations that encounter law enforcement officers.
Rae drew laughs with an imitation of Coyner’s listening posture: Thumbs tucked into his gunbelt, leaning forward, head slightly tilted and eyebrows raised. At 6 feet, 3 inches tall and 240 pounds, Rae said Coyner’s presence could be intimidating. But you wouldn’t know it from watching Coyner’s compassion when interacting with people in difficult situations.
“Never once did I hear him raise his voice with anybody …because he didn’t have to,” Rae said. “His presence alone inspired respect.”
Coyner inspired plenty of laughter, too.
Bosick, a fellow Steamboat Springs native who entered law enforcement at about the same time as Coyner, told of a Steamboat 10K race in which the two friends were jostling in a competitive sprint to the finish line.
The race photographer caught an image of Bosick’s hand on Coyner’s chest. Coyner bought the photo, framed it and hung it at the Police Department, where Bosick said Coyner pointed it out “every time I went into his office.”
One night, on a camping trip with several families, Bosick said he was sitting around the fire enjoying conversation when he felt a burning sensation on his leg.
Bosick said he looked down and saw that Coyner had attached a shock collar — from one of the Coyner family’s “47 little ankle-biters” — onto his leg, set to a high level.
“He about fell out of his chair laughing,” Bosick said. “Dale spent the rest of the evening mimicking the noises I made.”
McKnight worked with Coyner in recent weeks to plan Sunday’s service. McKnight said when he asked Coyner what the sergeant would want to say to his law enforcement colleagues, Coyner listed four things:
■ Do the right thing.
■ Be self-motivated and content with yourself. Don’t do things for the recognition. Do them because they need to be done.
■ Help others, and do your best to make things better.
■ Realize how blessed you are to work with good people and live in a place like this.
Those messages, McKnight noted, can apply not only to the law enforcement community, but also to the community as a whole.
The law enforcement community honored Coyner’s memory in one more way Sunday.
Rae said that by order of Chief Hays, Sgt. Coyner’s badge number officially is retired from the Police Department.
“No officer from this point forward will wear that badge number, nor will that radio number be issued again,” Rae said of Sam 6-4.