Guelph officer remembered for her passion for life

The streets of Guelph, Ont., were packed today with thousands of people paying their respects to Const. Jennifer Kovach, a local officer who died in a crash last week while on duty.
Const. Jennifer Kovach's sister Emily Kovach, second left, and father Bill Kovach, second right, look on during her funeral in Guelph, Ont., on Thursday. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Const. Jennifer Kovach, the 26-year-old Guelph police officer who died in the line of duty last week, was remembered Thursday for her love of life and the people who were important to her at a public funeral attended by thousands.

"She packed more into her short life than most people do in a lifetime. She lived by what she believed in and never missed an opportunity," said the officer's mother, Gloria Kovach, in an address at the Sleeman Centre in Guelph front of an estimated 6,000 attendees.

Kovach said her daughter called her hours before she died — and was "ecstatic" about the impending birth of her brother's daughter.

The officer was hoping to go to Ottawa the next day to see her new niece, said Kovach.

Her last words to her mother were "I love you mum. See ya."

Kovach said her daughter's proudest achievement was earning her badge — it was number 72.

A daredevil who loved to ride dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles, often returning covered in mud, the lifelong Guelph resident, encouraged others to test their limits and live for the moment, or "live loud," as friends and relatives said she put it.

Her taste for adventure meant her parents worried about her safety more outside work than on the job, her father, Bill Kovach, a retired paramedic, joked during a tearful tribute to his daughter.

Guelph police Chief Bryan Larkin called  Kovach a fearless woman.

"For her, she would not say she paid the ultimate sacrifice while pursuing her duties. In fact, she would say she was living her passion and fulfilling her childhood dream," he said.

'This has hit home pretty hard'

Ontario's lieutenant-governor said Kovach was an inspiration.

"When a police officer dies in the line of duty it affects us all. Jennifer represented the virtues we admire most as a province and a nation, the virtues of duty and courage," said David Onley.

The funeral service came after thousands of police officers from across North America walked through the streets of Guelph in a procession.

Many mourners wore a memorial pin inscribed with the constable's name and badge number, while Guelph Transit buses flashed "R.I.P. 72" and flags across the province were flown at half-mast.

"My son is in the OPP and this has hit home pretty hard," said Elizabeth Gray. She stood on the sidewalk during the procession with a sign that read "Heroes in life, not death. Thank you for all your service."

The significance of Kovach's death was "just overwhelming," Gray said.

Investigators believe Kovach lost control of her cruiser at about 12:30 a.m. on March 14 before her car crossed the median line and slammed head-on into a Guelph transit bus.

Police said Kovach was responding to a call for assistance for a drug seizure at the time of the crash and that she was responding to help a fellow officer deal with an unco-operative suspect. They have yet to determine the exact cause of the crash.

With files from The Canadian Press