'Highly Regarded' Police Officer Dies

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Family and friends of Payson Police Sgt. Doug Johnson are struggling this week to understand the sudden, unexplained death of the 37-year-old father of four.

Johnson, an 11-year veteran of the Payson Police Department, was found dead in his bed Thursday morning, just hours after completing his shift.

"He was a highly regarded officer, and had numerous commendations from both the public and fellow law enforcement officers," Police Chief Gordon Gartner said. "He was just an outstanding individual. He leaves us with a huge hole to fill."

Johnson joined the local department in October of 1991 as a reserve officer. After completing the Police Academy, he became a full-time officer in January 1993.

During his career with the police department, Johnson taught Drug Abuse Resistance Education to local students, was a range master, and firearms instructor, and worked as a Special Enforcement officer for the past year.

Johnson was promoted to sergeant May 11, 2002.

Gartner said Johnson was on patrol early Thursday morning, finished at 2:30 a.m. and went home to bed.

"His wife got up (Thursday morning), and got the kids ready for the first day of school," the chief said. "She went in to check on Doug around 9 a.m., and found him dead. We have no idea why he died. He was in good spirits, good health, has a great family. There is nothing visible from where we were standing (to indicate cause of death).

"We are all having a hard time dealing with this," Gartner said, "but more importantly, how does the family cope with this? The Payson Police Department's hearts are with them now."

A medical examiner is performing an autopsy to determine the cause of death, and the investigation has been turned over to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Johnson is survived by his wife, Theresa; four children, Jessica O'Donnell, Cody O'Donnell, Dillan Johnson and Sarah Johnson; and his parents, Dennis and Lois Johnson of Payson.

Memorial services are pending.

An account has been set up at Wells Fargo Bank to help the family with expenses. To donate, make checks payable to the Doug Johnson Memorial Fund, account number 532-072-7083.

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