Jason Felton lost his ability to speak several months ago.
Lou Gehrig’s disease had left most of his body immobile, and the former Hayden Lake police chief relied on his eyes to communicate. Family, friends and nurses who visited at the home Felton shared with his wife, Cynde, would hold up a series of letters and follow his eyes to the correct one, piecing together words and, ultimately, sentences.
It was through that careful process that Felton, 54, told his family it was time for him to go.
“His mind was 100 percent, trapped in a body that would not work,” said his brother, Richard Felton.
Family and friends gathered Friday as his ventilator was unplugged. More than a thousand people – including law officers from across the region – are expected at his memorial service Wednesday.
A motorcade with at least 100 squad cars will drive through the Rathdrum Prairie to Hayden Lake City Hall before Felton’s burial at Coeur d’Alene Memorial Gardens. Bagpipers and a full honor guard will attend.
Diagnosed in 2006 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Felton retired as police chief after more than 27 years and lived about a year and half longer than doctors expected. ALS gradually withers away the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control muscles, causing the muscles to weaken and waste away.
The community rallied around Felton when he retired as the city’s only police officer. More than 700 people attended a fundraiser, and he was honored during the Hayden Days parade in 2006.
“I had no idea how big his family of friends was,” Richard Felton said. “People from all over the state kept calling, saying, ‘Can we just come by and see Jay?’ It’s pretty incredible.”
Kootenai County Sheriff’s Capt. Ben Wolfinger called Felton “a great guy. He loved being a cop, and he loved being a public servant. That was just his life.”
Felton was born in Spokane and moved to Moscow about the age of 10 when his mother married Robert T. Felton, a district court judge. He became Hayden Lake’s sole police officer in 1979. He and his wife have five grown children.
“He liked the simple things in life,” said his sister-in-law, Tamara Felton. “He loved to fish and have bonfires. He loved to cut wood. He loved to sit outside with Cynde and watch lightning storms.”
Hayden Lake Mayor Nancy Morris worked with Felton for more than 20 years at City Hall, where she was city clerk until 2003.
“He was good for our city, and I think we were probably good for him, too,” she said.
Patrolling the six-square-mile town for as long as he did meant he knew pretty much everyone and understod their situations, said Tom Gorman, a Hayden Lake city councilman.
He recalled Felton pulling over his 16-year-old daughter for speeding several years ago.
Felton knew the family had recently put larger tires on the car.
“That’s why you’re going so fast. Remember that,” Gorman recalled Felton saying before letting the girl go with a warning. “He knew when to be tough and when to be lenient.”
Felton told The Spokesman-Review in June 2006 that he planned to dedicate his time to researching ALS and seeking alternative medicines. But Morris said Felton was realistic about his fate. He showed up at her home after he was diagnosed to share the news.
“He and I sat out there and balled for a half an hour,” she said. “I told him he’d win, but he said, ‘No, there’s no winning.’ ”