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Remember This? 1978 Cop Classic photo captures future killer, future sheriff

By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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“Remember This?”

and Gus Thomson  can be reached at

or 530-852-02232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.       

 

The Placer County Sheriff’s Office and California Highway Patrol had a friendly rivalry going in the 1970s that found an outlet every winter on the basketball court.

The annual Cop Classic game at Earl Crabbe Gymnasium in Auburn drew sizable crowds as the slyly named CHP Squealers took on the County Mounties.

This photo from the Auburn Journal archives was shot by Jim Huggins — who would go on to be KAHI radio program director. It was part of a package of pictures the Journal printed in a full-page spread headlined “CHP Squealers Cop Cop Classic” in the AJ’s Feb. 17, 1978 edition.

This is the main photo, showing 6-foot-6-inch California Highway Patrol cadet Garnet Ukkerd — the tallest man on either team, it was noted — putting up a shot.

Judging from the size of the crowd, the matchup attracted plenty of supporters for both sides, with money raised from the third annual event going to the Big Brothers organization.

Leading up to the game, a publicity photo shows Patrolman C.B. Farnsworth, with .38 caliber revolver in hand watching as Placer County Sheriff’s Cpl. Ray Arnold, with the help of a ladder, captures a jump ball thrown up by by Big Brother President John Paulsen. Just getting started in the profession, Paulsen was a public defender at the time but would soon go into private family law practice in Auburn — a career choice that would continue for more than 30 years.

Back to the main photo and two of the most prominent people playing that day — their places in local history secured for very different reasons over the ensuing years.

Shown left to right are, then-deputy Ed Bonner (No. 22), Mike Clemons (son of a Highway Patrol officer) Deputy Bill Roloff, Deputy Paul Kovacich and Ken Kilgore, the son of Auburn Highway Patrol Officer John Kilgore). Then comes the towering presence of Ukkerd, and the watchful eye of the unnamed referee.

Bonner and Kovacich provide interesting counterpoints in this “Remember This?” installment.

Bonner distinguished himself that night on the basketball court, topping the Mounties scoring with Arnold in what turned out to be a losing effort to hold onto the winners’ trophy. Both had 23 points.

Less than 20 years later, Bonner would take over as Placer County sheriff and retain that post until his retirement in 2017. He departed as perhaps the county’s most respected, if not beloved, elected official.

The counterpoint in the picture is Kovacich.

Less than four years after the Cop Classic — on Sept. 8, 1982 — Kovacich’s wife, Janet, would literally vanish off the face of the earth. And Paul Kovacich would appear strangely nonchalant about it, telling investigators that he believed she had left him and deserted her two small children.

Justice would wait until DNA evidence was available almost 30 years later. Convicted in 2008 of shooting his wife to death, Kovacich remains in prison serving a life sentence.

But on a winter’s night on a high-school basketball court in Auburn, two Placer County deputies played basketball together, little knowing or understanding how the paths they would choose to take in the coming years would diverge so markedly.

“Remember This?” and Gus Thomson  can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com or 530-852-02232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.