I held the rank of undersheriff in Hinsdale County prior to Roger's appointment as sheriff of this county. I had resigned to take a position with another southern Colorado law enforcement agency. Recently I wrote a book about my Hinsdale S/O service, and a portion of it discusses Roger's tragic demise. Below are my reflections of Hinsdale Sheriff Roger Coursey:
MY REFLECTIONS OF HINSDALE SHERIFF ROGER COURSEY:
I had never met officer Roger Coursey in person. He joined the Hinsdale County Sheriff’s Department after my move southwest to the La Plata County Sheriff's Department. I have, however, learned more about the man through my readings of available writings of others.
Roger and I were the same age. We both held a dream of working on a rural department far from the city lights. We were both cops with a strong sense of duty and justice, ready to serve the county citizenry at a moment’s notice, putting aside fear, living under the dedication expressed by John Wayne, when he said, “Courage is being scared to death … and saddling up anyway.” It comes with the territory. We were cops.
When Roger got the call of suspects heading north from Creede, he left the safety of his home and wife Karen, “saddled up”, and set out to apprehend those who would harm others. He was living in Lake City with his wife, just as I was, but that day, he never returned home. It was his actions, along with those of the undersheriff, that brought the suspects to a halt.
I was living in the mountains west of Durango, in a new home I had built at 7,000 feet, when news of Roger’s passing reached me. My wife looked at me in shock as we listened to the sketchy details of the 1994 incident on television. She told me that had I decided to run for sheriff, as many folks wanted me to do, I would have been the one answering the call that day. She would have been waiting at home as Karen did.
Of course, second guessing alternate life paths can be a disturbing exercise, as there is no way to ever know how it would have played out. Yet, she aroused some troubling mental visions for us both. Had I then chosen to remain with the department, I would have either been the sheriff, in which case Roger probably would never have been here, or I would have stayed on as undersheriff, in which case I would have been Roger’s second in command. What could have been is not what was, but the conjecture still rises up despite our logical attempts to subdue it.
I cannot even imagine the anguish suffered by my wife had I been in Roger’s boots. Such a day is the nightmare scenario of every cop’s wife. The moment of it happening is not known to the spouse, and only later must a co-worker share the devastating news for her ears to hear, as she answers the door innocently enough, but then realizes something dreadfully wrong has occurred, panic coldly seizing her body and mind.
It wasn’t possible for us to hear of this lawman’s death in the line of duty without deeply analyzing the other paths life might have taken. This includes the alternate path the Coursey family’s life would have also taken based on my decision to transfer from one department to another. Roger and Karen would likely still be on their “honeymoon from beginning to end” as she verbalized their relationship at his funeral. The two would have been married for 37 years by now.
My wife and mom were relieved that I had left Hinsdale County when I did, but I think of another wife and mom on the other side of the coin, and I cry for them, having walked in the same boots as chosen by Roger, in a profession where every new day brings a complete uncertainty as to what will unfold. When a lawman dedicates his life to the protection of others, there are no guarantees of any kind. What seems like a peaceful little mountain community can become a nightmare of regret that savagely alters lives forever.
Karen is also reported to have said that Roger would have helped the two troubled suspects had he been given the chance, a truism I completely embrace, as helping others was the major reason I entered law enforcement originally in 1973. When asked in the interview my motivation for joining the force, that is precisely what I told them more than four decades ago. From this, it is my belief that Roger and I must have shared many of the same traits, one of which is seeking to trust the good side of people, but this can be one’s undoing. It is a fine balance, hard to walk.
So Roger, I never knew you, but we were part of the brotherhood of lawmen who put risk aside to do the necessary work of helping people. I salute you my departed friend, and your wife Karen. Farewell …
Steve Greene, former Undersheriff
Hinsdale County Sheriff's Department
March 31, 2016