One police officer dead, one injured after shooting

By Abby Morris

STAR STAFF
amorris@starhq.com

   BEECH MOUNTAIN, N.C. -- One Avery County Sheriff's Department officer was killed and another critically injured after the two men were shot while responding to a call in the Beech Mountain community Thursday afternoon.
   According to Avery County District Attorney Jerry Wilson, officer Glen Hicks, who was in his 50s, was killed and officer Ralph Coffey, in his late 40s, was critically injured. Coffey was transported to the Johnson City Medical Center Hospital, Johnson City, Tenn. by Wings Air Rescue. He was listed in stable condition Thursday night after undergoing surgery, according to Wilson.
   Hicks and Coffey had responded to what Wilson described as a "routine call" at the residence of Elijah Puckett, Old Beech Mountain Road, just shortly after 3 p.m. when they were shot. Wilson stated that he did not know what the nature of the call to the Puckett residence was, but that it was possible that the officers were there to serve an arrest warrant on someone in the home.
   After allegedly shooting the two officers, Puckett fled the residence on foot and other officers were called to begin a search for him. Officers finally found Puckett in the woods. "He was holed up in a rock cliff area with local law enforcement officers surrounding him trying to talk him out," Wilson said.
   After extensive talks with law enforcement officers, Puckett turned himself over and was taken into custody, Wilson said. He was then transported to the Watauga County (N.C.) Detention Center, near Boone, N.C.
   Wilson said he felt it was better for Puckett to have been transported immediately to the Watauga County facility than to have him brought to the Avery County Jail. "When he was apprehended, there were still family members of the two officers here at the sheriff's department, and I didn't feel it was appropriate to bring him here for them to see," he said.
   Puckett will be charged with one count of homicide, according to Wilson, and other charges are pending. He will make his initial court appearance today in Avery County.
   Wilson said he was not sure what kind of previous record Puckett had but that he believes "he has some history of assaultive behavior."
   Members of the Avery County Sheriff's Department gathered at the department's office shortly after the incident and remained there after Puckett was arrested. They sat together in hallways and offices to cry and comfort each other.
   Officers with the department marked their badges with a stripe of black tape to signify their mourning for a fellow officer. "They are upset at the loss of their companion," Wilson said.
   Wilson said he also knew both officers. "I knew him to be an excellent officer," he said of Hicks. Wilson described Coffey as a "very likable person" who "had a way of dealing with people."
   Several law enforcement agencies from the surrounding counties in North Carolina responded as well as officers with the U.S. Marshals service and the N. C. State Bureau of Investigation. Sheriff John Henson, of the Carter County Sheriff's Department, also responded to the scene. "I had officers on standby here in case they were needed, but it turned out that they weren't," Henson said.