The chief of police in Klawock, a Tlingit village on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska, died unexpectedly early Monday morning.
Terry Stonecipher, 60, had served as police chief in the community of a little over 800 people since 2005, according to Klawock Mayor Nick Nickerson. The chief’s death leaves the village at least temporarily without a staffed police force.
Stonecipher was the sole member of the force, and also served as the city’s public safety director presiding over police, fire, search and rescue and EMS services. He had previously worked for police departments in Metlakatla and Bethel.
“It’s a huge loss. Our whole community’s in shock,” Nickerson said Monday evening.
The mayor, who serves with the fire department, was one of numerous local emergency responders who rushed to provide assistance early Monday morning after dispatchers issued an “all-call” for help.
Alaska State Troopers said they responded to Klawock from Prince of Wales for a report of an unresponsive man inside a home just before 3 a.m. Monday. Stonecipher was pronounced dead after life-saving measures proved unsuccessful, they said. No foul play is suspected.
The city’s flags were flown at half-staff Monday.
Stonecipher, who had two children in Klawock, went “above and beyond” to help residents, Nickerson said. “He was very kind, very polite. He was busy but made a point to get to you if issues came up. It didn’t matter if it was a DUI report or a barking dog, he was there.”
Stonecipher also had adult children who live in other communities.
City officials posted an alert Monday that troopers will be responding to all police emergencies in Klawock.
The mayor said he’d been trying for 3 1/2 years to hire an officer, but struggled to find applicants or people who met the job’s requirements. Klawock officials are working out a “collaborative schedule for patrolling” with the troopers and the police department from the nearby community of Craig, he said.
Stonecipher’s body will be transported for autopsy to the State Medical Examiner Office in Anchorage on Tuesday.
Troopers, police from Craig, and Klawock responders plan to escort his remains in a flag-draped casket to the ferry terminal in Hollis, according to information circulated by the procession’s organizer, troopers Sgt. Rob Jensen.
The procession will be passing through Klawock Tuesday at 6:15 a.m.
“Any community member who wishes to pay respects to Chief Stonecipher, may either join the procession, or be on the side of the road with flashing lights as he makes his final journey through the City of Klawock,” the city posted on Facebook.
Mayor Nickerson will be driving the chief’s police vehicle — number 108 — in the procession.
“I will be calling dispatch,” he said. “I intend to call dispatch and let them know 108 is signing off.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Terry Stonecipher had two children. In addition to two children in Klawock, he also had adult children living elsewhere.