'Be like Zach': Hundreds of police officers mourn LMPD's Zachary Cottongim at funeral

·4 min read

Zachary Cottongim was the type of police officer who once bought a bus ticket for a person with an addiction who "just wanted to go home."

When that same man couldn't afford to go to rehab, Cottongim borrowed money from his father and paid part of the cost. He knew if he didn't help the man, no one would.

Cottongim was a "shining example" of the police world, according Dave Burns, a retired police officer and a close family friend.

And now because of a terrible, heartbreaking accident, he was gone.

A lone Louisville Metro Police salutes as the body of officer Zach Cottongim is brought from Southeast Christian Church to an awaiting hearse. Cottongim was hit and killed by a driver on Interstate 64, in Louisville. Dec. 22, 2021.
A lone Louisville Metro Police salutes as the body of officer Zach Cottongim is brought from Southeast Christian Church to an awaiting hearse. Cottongim was hit and killed by a driver on Interstate 64, in Louisville. Dec. 22, 2021.

That story about the bus ticket is just one of many inspiring anecdotes shared at the Louisville Metro Police officer's funeral Wednesday morning at Southeast Christian Church. Hundreds of police officers gathered alongside Cottongim's family and friends to celebrate his life and pray through the tragedy, before the 29-year-old was laid to rest at Cave Hill Cemetery in the afternoon.

Read hisobituary here.

Cottongim was on foot tending to an abandoned vehicle Saturday morning, when he was hit by a westbound driver who had lost control of a vehicle. Cottongim was transported to University of Louisville Hospital, where he was in and out of surgery for 10 hours, before he died.

LMPD hired Cottongim in September 2014, and at the time of his death, he was assigned to the First Division, which includes the Portland, Russell and Butchertown neighborhoods. He trained officers and he worked different details throughout his career.

Friends and colleagues knew him as a bright, talented young man, and his loss has sent a wave of grief throughout the department.

A procession for Louisville Metro Police officer Zachary Cottongim enters Cave Hill Cemetery, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021, in Louisville. Cottongim, 29, died Saturday, Dec. 18, due to injuries he sustained while on the job. He was on foot tending to an abandoned vehicle along Interstate 64 around 10 a.m. when he was hit by a westbound driver who had lost control of their vehicle, according to LMPD.
A procession for Louisville Metro Police officer Zachary Cottongim enters Cave Hill Cemetery, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021, in Louisville. Cottongim, 29, died Saturday, Dec. 18, due to injuries he sustained while on the job. He was on foot tending to an abandoned vehicle along Interstate 64 around 10 a.m. when he was hit by a westbound driver who had lost control of their vehicle, according to LMPD.

That was evident at the funeral Wednesday, as Cottongim's wife, Jamie, and several officers from his division stood behind Burns as he gave the eulogy. Cottongim's body rested in a casket in front of them, draped by an American flag and a shining blue light from the stage above.

Louisville Police Chief Erika Shields told the crowd of roughly 900 that she believed Cottongim was on a path that "was limitless" and "had no boundaries." Now because of an unfathomable accident, his life was cut short.

"My heart is heavy as I stand here today," she said. "We should not be here."

More: Processional for LMPD officer Zachary Cottongim heads to Highlands Funeral Home

She assured Jamie and the couple's two young sons, Riley and Alexander, that they would always be part of the police department's family — and not just LMPD, but every police department, in every corner of the United States. That promise was clear in the numerous badges represented in the crowd. Police officers traveled all the way from Bowling Green and Nicholasville to pay their respects.

Officers salute after the casket of officer Zach Cottongim, a seven-year veteran of LMPD killed moving a disabled vehicle, is put into place at his burial site at Cave Hill Cemetery on Wednesday. Dec. 22, 2021
Officers salute after the casket of officer Zach Cottongim, a seven-year veteran of LMPD killed moving a disabled vehicle, is put into place at his burial site at Cave Hill Cemetery on Wednesday. Dec. 22, 2021

Being a police officer was always Cottongim’s dream, Burns told the crowd. His father, Dale, is also a Louisville police officer, and as a young boy, Zach asked relentless questions about police work. When he was old enough, he went on ride-alongs and later studied criminal justice at Daymar College.

Still, Cottongim struggled when he graduated from the police academy and entered the force, Burns said. He had a shy disposition, but that didn’t stop him. He found his niche and became the go-to guy in the department for technology. He also was an authority in the department on state law and policy. His colleagues admired him, too, for his selflessness and dependability.

Outside the department Cottongim was a doting father and a loving husband. He cherished every minute with his family. Playing with his sons each night before bed was something he never sacrificed, no matter how busy he was or how much his job demanded of him.

A flag is folded over the casket of officer Zach Cottongim, a seven-year veteran of LMPD killed moving a disabled vehicle, after his casket was placed at his burial site at Cave Hill Cemetery on Wednesday. Dec. 22, 2021
A flag is folded over the casket of officer Zach Cottongim, a seven-year veteran of LMPD killed moving a disabled vehicle, after his casket was placed at his burial site at Cave Hill Cemetery on Wednesday. Dec. 22, 2021

Before Burns stepped off the stage, he told the crowd the best way to honor Cottongim's memory is "to be like Zach." That's not a phrase to slap on a T-shirt or even something to hashtag on social media, Burns said. It needs to be lived out in actions, because that's how Cottongim lived — good, solid, selfless, dependable actions.

SEE IT: Funeral, gravesite service for Louisville police officer Zach Cottongim

After the service, Cottongim's body traveled to Cave Hill Cemetery in a silver hearse accompanied by hundreds of police cars and flashing lights.

Once on the grounds, it was transported to his gravesite on horse-drawn carriage and greeted by horns, pipes and a 21-gun salute. The flag on his casket was carefully folded and presented to his family.

A boot on a riderless horse faces backward symbolizing a fallen hero looking back at the troops during officer Zach Cottongim's funeral at Cave Hill Cemetery on Wednesday. Dec. 22, 2021
A boot on a riderless horse faces backward symbolizing a fallen hero looking back at the troops during officer Zach Cottongim's funeral at Cave Hill Cemetery on Wednesday. Dec. 22, 2021

Then a police radio rang-out in one, solemn, symbolic goodbye.

"Officer Zachary Cottongim served the Louisville Metro Police Department and the citizens of Louisville with honor, integrity and distinction ... Officer Zachary Cottongim is 10-7 for the remainder," the voice over the radio said. "May he rest in peace."

Courier Journal features columnist Maggie Menderski can be reached at mmenderski@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville Police Officer Zachary Cottongim mourned at funeral

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