Community, department try to move forward after shooting death of officer

By Abby Morris
star staff
amorris@starhq.com

   BEECH MOUNTAIN, N.C. -- As members of the Avery County Sheriff's Department and the community adjust to the loss of a friend and colleague, plans are under way to keep alive the memory of an officer killed in the line of duty.
   According to a staff member from the office of Avery County Manager Robert Wiseman, plans are being made for a memorial to Deputy Glen Hicks, 52, who was shot and killed while on what officials are describing as "a routine call" Thursday afternoon, and to Deputy Ralph Coffey, 47, who was shot and critically injured in the same incident.
   Avery County Sheriff Edward Gwyn said that the funeral for Hicks was held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Avery County High School. The family of the officer also used the facility at the high school to receive friends. The facility was selected because of the expected high turnout of mourners.
   "Everybody is trying to cope with this," Gwyn said. "It has been hard on everyone. It's a close knit bunch." The reason for that feeling of closeness is because the department is a small one, Gwyn said, with only approximately 30 officers.
   Hicks and Coffey were shot while they were making a routine call to the residence of Elijah Puckett, on Old Beech Mountain Road. "The call was really a domestic call," Gwyn said. "They were not up there to serve any papers or anything."
   According to Avery County's Web site (www.averyco.com), "...shortly after they arrived on the scene they were shot in what appears to have been an ambush."
   Hicks received a fatal gunshot wound to the face and died on the scene. Coffey received a gunshot wound to the face and one to the hip. He was transported by Wings Air Rescue to Johnson City Medical Center, where he underwent surgery. He was listed in serious but stable condition Friday evening.
   After allegedly shooting the two officers, Puckett fled the residence on foot. Coffey was able to radio for help at that time and soon, units from several surrounding law enforcement agencies as well as officers from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Marshals Service were on the scene to begin the pursuit.
   After responding to the scene, law enforcement officers had to track Puckett and, once they located him, had to talk him out of hiding. "He was hold up in a rock cliff area with law enforcement officers surrounding him trying to talk him out," said Jerry Wilson, district attorney for Avery County.
   Puckett eventually turned himself over to officers and was arrested and transported to the Watauga County (N.C.) Detention Center.
   Unfortunately for the officers involved, death is something that is very real to law enforcement agents. "It's a dangerous job," said Carter County Sheriff John Henson. "When we get up in the morning and put on this uniform and this gun, there's a chance we may not be coming back."
   Henson, who responded to the scene to support North Carolina agencies, said that he knows all of the officers from the Avery County Sheriff's Department. "My heart goes out to the families of those deputies and to the Sheriff's Department," he said.
   Recent years have seen law enforcement officers from Greene County and Johnson County shot and killed while responding to calls, according to Henson. "Carter County has been lucky. We've never had an officer killed in the line of duty, not even in a car wreck," he said.