“There is a police officer involved in this shooting.”

Those chilling words came across the radio from a police dispatcher in Abilene sometime in 1991. It was late summer or early fall — August, September, maybe, and around 9 or 10 p.m. on a Friday night. The shooting happened outside a home in a peaceful residential neighborhood.

As the crime beat reporter for the Abilene Reporter-News, I was on the scene a few minutes later.

Police and paramedics were swarming the front yard where the shooting had occurred, and it was hard to make sense of the scene. In the darkness, I could see a man stretched out on the grass, being treated by paramedics. He wore jeans and sneakers, and I figured he probably wasn’t the officer involved.

A few feet away, though, a man in a blue uniform was being treated for head lacerations. I learned later the officer was Jeff McCoy, and he and a burglar — the man in jeans and sneakers — had surprised each other. The burglar had hit McCoy several times in the head with a tire iron, knocked him down and straddled him, and was preparing to hit him again. Desperate, McCoy pulled his pistol and fired point-blank into the burglar’s abdomen.

As paramedics arrived, the seriously injured McCoy insisted that they check on the burglar, who survived, before they checked on him.

Later, I stood outside the area marked off by police tape, hoping to get more information from the responding officers. A detective named Jay Hatcher walked over and spoke with me.

I was still fairly new to Abilene, and I was surprised that he knew my name. He went on to become one of my favorite cops.

The 1991 incident rocked the Abilene Police Department, and officers rallied around their injured brother.

“McCoy’s gonna make it,” one officer told another one as reports from the hospital came down.

As the years passed, I never forgot that dramatic night or the personable, professional and dedicated young officer who returned to duty after spending several weeks recovering from his injuries. He could have been any officer in any department.

Jay Hatcher could have been, too. Hatcher was another one I never forgot.

In their wildest imaginations, no one then could have foreseen that McCoy would be in the news 16 years later in a terrible way.

Tuesday morning, I was stunned to read that McCoy had been killed in a traffic collision while on routine patrol. I recognized his name instantly.

The collision happened around 3:40 a.m. when an oncoming vehicle, traveling at high speed, hit a dip in the road, lost control and hit McCoy’s patrol car, Abilene police have said.

You don’t expect a life to end at 40, as McCoy’s did. I don’t guess you expect life to end at any age, although we know it obviously does.

It’s a dangerous world out there for law enforcement, and McCoy was the second law enforcement person in the area to lose his life in the line of duty in less than a week.

Game warden Ty Patterson drowned on May 30, and another game warden was injured when their boat capsized on the flood-swollen Paluxy River during a search-and-rescue effort. You don’t expect a life to end at 28.

Web sites such as officer.com tell too many stories of officers who gave the last full measure of devotion, their lives poured out in service to others. Some recent examples:

New Jersey officer wounded in shootout.

California deputies injured in shootout.

Florida deputies shot in thwarted burglary.

Ohio officer shot, killed responding.

Ohio officer chasing suspect dies in river.

Body identified as missing South Carolina constable.

Injuries from cruiser crash claim North Carolina officer.

Georgia deputy killed in crash while responding.

Kansas officer dies of wounds from tornado response.

New Jersey officer dies in crash caused by deer.

As for the Abilene Police Department, you wonder how much more tragedy a department can endure. In 2000, Jay Hatcher — who had spoken with me as I stood outside the police tape in the 1991 shooting — was killed in an explosion while off-duty.

I was in Illinois when Jay was killed, and from what I read in news accounts, it ripped the city’s heart out.

A recent AP article about the New Jersey officer killed in a crash with a deer might give an idea of how the Abilene department is reacting to McCoy’s death:

“‘Patrolman William Preslar’s death in the crash of the cruiser he was driving while en route to assist another officer has taken an emotional toll unlike anything the department has experienced,’ Detective Sgt. Joseph Isnardi said.”

Steve Nash writes his column for the Brownwood Bulletin on Thursdays. He may be reached by e-mail at steve.nash@brownwoodbulletin.com.