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‘Life of service’: Kalispel Tribal Police officer who died was a longtime Special Olympics volunteer

For those familiar with the Special Olympics in Washington, Jay Hughes was known as someone who would do whatever it took to raise money and awareness for amateur athletes.

That included jumping into freezing cold water on an annual basis.

Hughes, an officer for the Kalispel Tribal Police, and his fellow “Copsicles” embodied their team name over the years as part of the Special Olympics Washington’s Polar Plunge Challenge. He was a “super plunger,” taking to the water multiple times in a single day.

This year, however, the Copsicles are taking the plunge in memory of Hughes, who died last week. He was 64.

Hughes suffered a medical emergency while responding with two other officers to an altercation Jan. 4 on the Northern Quest Resort and Casino floor, according to the Kalispel Tribe of Indians. Hughes collapsed as police detained one of the suspects, prompting the officers to call for backup and perform CPR.

Hughes underwent surgery at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and was admitted to the cardiac intensive care unit, according to the Kalispel Tribe. He died Jan. 6; the cause of his death has not yet been released.

In a statement, the Kalispel Tribal Police said Hughes was a kind soul with a sharp sense of humor who was a mentor for his fellow officers.

“Officer Hughes was a valued member of our team and he will be deeply missed by all who knew him,” police said in the statement. “He lived a life of service and was selfless with the generosity of his friendship and his time.”

Hughes joined the Kalispel Tribal Police in July 2016 after nearly 40 years as a corrections officer and reserve deputy for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, according to the Kalispel Tribe. He also served 18 years as a volunteer firefighter for Spokane County Fire District 4.

The Kalispel Tribe said Hughes, an EMT since 1979, was recently nominated for a life-saving award after performing CPR to save an infant’s life while responding to a possible drowning at the Copper Landing Apartments. He is survived by his wife, four children, 12 grandchildren and a great-grandson.

Hughes started volunteering for the Special Olympics Washington in 1981, according to the tribe. Hughes was known for running a local motorcycle ride and a number of other Special Olympics events, according to the organization.

A pioneer of the Law Enforcement Torch Run in Washington, Hughes served on the campaign’s executive council as co-director and was inducted into the Washington Law Enforcement Torch Run’s hall of fame last year, said Ellie Hardwick, development director for the Washington Torch Run. He was the campaign’s “go-to” for anything in Eastern Washington, such as fundraising events and volunteer recruitment, she said.

“He had the biggest heart,” Hardwick said. “No matter what you asked of him, he would jump to do it.”

For the Special Olympics Washington’s 2019 Fall Games in the Tri Cities, Hughes volunteered his time that November weekend to represent the Torch Run’s executive council and support as needed, congratulating participating athletes along the high-five line and passing out medals.

“Jay’s always just been one of those pillars,” Hardwick said. “He was a man full of integrity and he was a friend. He was just that person you could go to for anything.”

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