A dedicated police officer.
A loving husband and father.
These are the words that people used to describe their friend and colleague Scott Punch, an Oregon State Police sergeant who shot and killed himself at his Gold Beach home a week ago.
“We mourn his passing and search for answers in wake of this tragic incident,” said OSP Superintendent Richard Evans.
Authorities responding to a 911 call of a shooting at 11 p.m. Jan. 5 discovered Punch’s body inside his 11th Street home. A subsequent investigation and autopsy confirmed he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Punch, 45, is survived by his wife, adult daughter and teenage son.
Punch worked for the OSP for 19 years, spending all the time based at the Gold Beach office and patrolling Curry County roads. In 2004, Punch was promoted to sergeant and served as the work site supervisor for six troopers, Evans said.
Evans issued a press release thanking “all of the law enforcement officers, troopers, dispatchers and command staff that contributed during the multi-agency wide response following the reported incident.”
He said the OSP’s Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) was deployed to the area to provide support and help with notifications immediately following Punch’s death.
Punch’s co-workers and colleagues in local law enforcement were stunned by his death.
“It’s surreal. We’re in shock,” said OSP Trooper and Brookings resident Paul Rushton. “It hits close to home and you can’t help but wonder ‘What’s the reason?’ ‘Why did it happen?’”
OSP Trooper Jeff Johnson, a Brookings resident, attended recruit school with Punch in 1994 and both started their law enforcement careers together in Curry County.
“We learned to be troopers together,” Johnson said. “He was a good man and I’m proud to have known him for 19 years. We had some good times.”
He said Punch was particularly vigilant in his efforts to stop drunk drivers.
“We were both competitive when it came to drunk drivers, working late and making arrests” Johnson said. “Arresting impaired drivers was a huge deal to him. I can’t even estimate the number of lives he saved.”
Johnson was surprised by Punch’s death.
“I was talking to him just last week. He was real happy. He was talking about his plans for the future. ... it was a total shock.”
On Thursday, Brookings Police Chief Chris Wallace said, “My heart and prayers go out to the Punch family, the Oregon State Police and the Curry County law enforcement community, who lost a fellow officer and friend.
Wallace added, “Scott was a dedicated officer who served the citizens of Curry County for many years with integrity and professionalism, and he was a great representative of the Oregon State Police. He will be greatly missed, and it was truly a privilege to have worked with him throughout the years.”
Curry County Sheriff John Bishop recalled meeting Punch when the OSP recruit first arrived 19 years ago.
“We have worked together since then and he has always been extremely professional and represented the Oregon State Police very well,” Bishop said.
“He was a friend and, as administrators, we tackled several issues together.”
Bishop and Punch worked on several committees together and “the public’s interest was always at the forefront of our decisions.”
“Sgt. Punch was a good law enforcement officer and a good friend, and we will miss him dearly. This community lost a good member.”
Rushton said he was always impressed with Punch’s dedication his family.
“His wife and kids were really important to him. He really enjoyed doing things with his son and he always told people that he not only loved his wife but was ‘in love’ with her,” Rushton said.
Punch was well known and appreciated in the community, he said.
“Scott really knew the people in the community. They enjoyed him and trusted him, and he had lots of friends,” Rushton said.
Punch was an avid fly fisherman and could often be found fishing on local rivers. He was also a Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife- certified Master Hunter, Rushton said.
“He also had a great sense of humor,” he said. “When I first met him he said ‘I hope you last longer than the last guy.’”
In 2005, Punch received an award from the Oregon Department of Transportation safety’s division for “looking beyond a ticket” at a traffic stop and making the arrest of two bank robbers from Arkansas.
A 17-year-old youth from Bowling Green, Ky., was driving a Jeep Cherokee on Highway 101 just north of Brookings when Punch stopped him for following too close. He noticed the occupants appeared nervous and hesitant when answering questions.
Punch checked the vehicle’s identification and learned it was stolen from Kentucky and that the driver was being sought by the FBI and Arkansas police for robbing Regions Bank in Wynne, Ark., making off with $128,000 in cash. His 20-year-old female passenger had been an employee of the bank that was robbed.
A search of the vehicle also resulted in the discovery of a pound of marijuana and other evidence related to the Arkansas investigation.
Another heroic feat noted by his colleagues was Punch’s involvement in the rescue of a man caught in the tsunami surge of March 11, 2011, at Pistol River.
In that incident, a Medford man and his sister from Utah, who hadn’t heard about the earthquake in Japan, were walking along the beach at what they thought was low tide when the tsunami surge struck, sweeping them into the sea.
Punch responded to find a volunteer Pistol River firefighter trying to pull the woman from the sea ahead of another surge.
He helped provide initial medical care until emergency services could respond.
Punch was also a Purple Heart recipient and had served both in Iraq and Panama as a miltary policeman for the U.S. Army, Johnson said.
In the community, Punch was known for his participation in the annual Rogue River Cleanup project, often recruiting fellow officer to help him remove trash from the river. He also coached the Gold Beach Mat Club, a wrestling group for several years, and he participated in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for the Special Olympics for many years.