SANTA CRUZ -- Sgt. Loran "Butch" Baker had a way of mixing a lighter outlook on life with the seriousness of police work.
He was a Santa Cruz fixture -- a prankster, a character, a friend and a tenacious investigator. The kind of affable neighborhood cop people just wanted to strike up a conversation with.
Even as they recalled his boundless humor, Santa Cruz residents and colleagues were ripped with grief Wednesday as they struggled to comprehend his sudden death in the line of duty.
"To me he was just like an everyday guy who wanted to do good things for the community," said his longtime friend Michael Bethke. "He was more of a social worker than anything else. It just so happens he carried a gun."
Along with Santa Cruz detective Elizabeth Butler, Baker, 51, lost his life Tuesday afternoon when they were shot and killed by Jeremy Goulet, who died a half-hour later in a nearby shootout with police.
Friends and colleagues say he talked of retiring soon, having served 28 years with the Santa Cruz Police Department.
Baker grew up in Saratoga, and attended Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, Santa Cruz police Chief Kevin Vogel said.
Baker began working with the agency in 1985, and the two officers became partners in the 1990s.
Former partner, Watsonville Police Chief Manny Solano, said he was "broken up" over the loss. He and Baker started their careers together as Santa Cruz police officers in 1985.
"He and I grew close, both on the job and off, and I have nothing but fond memories that I will cherish forever," Solano said. "We actually started a support group for police families when it wasn't all that common."
Solano said he and Baker worked both patrol and the downtown Santa Cruz beat, which "always made things interesting. We usually drove our sergeants crazy trying to keep track of all us young officers."
That group included Vogel, current Capitola Police Chief Rudy Escalante and Santa Cruz Deputy Chief Steve Clark.
"Butch made work fun and was a highly motivated officer (who) loved the job more than anyone I know," Solano said.
Baker became a founder of the department's DUI enforcement team and a field training officer, even mentoring others like Vogel who later held the department's highest ranks.
"He was a remarkable teacher," Vogel said. "That mentorship never stopped throughout his career."
Baker was promoted to sergeant in 1997, a rank he held until his death.
But it was his passion for investigations that Vogel praised most.
"He just had that tenacious appetite to find the truth," he said.
When Vogel needed someone to dig into a case and follow it to the end, "Butch Baker was the one to do that for us. ... He was my most skilled investigator."
Santa Cruz County District Attorney Bob Lee said Baker played a major role in the investigation of countless cases throughout the years.
"He was a fixture in our office," Lee said. "He's who we'd call at the Santa Cruz Police Department when we needed something done right away."
Baker was just as well-known for his lighter side.
According to the department's blog, an informal poll revealed that he was prone to listening to the '70s rock bands Journey, Air Supply and Styx.
He also was known for wearing shorts, no matter the weather.
"I want to have this community understand what an incredible life and dedication he provided for us citizens," said his friend Bethke. "He did it in a kind of a quirky way. On the City Council beat, he was always in shorts. Even in the dead of winter, he always wore his signature shorts."
Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Director Dannettee Shoemaker, who has worked more than 30 years for the city, remembers Baker helping downtown residents back into their buildings after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. He also attended teen dances and helped with community cleanups, always with a big smile or funny story to tell.
"He was one of the funniest people I have ever known," she said. "He cracked himself up and us up."
In the past year, Shoemaker said she told Baker "parent to parent, not co-worker to co-worker" about the good work his son Adam, a community service officer, was doing with the parks unit.
"He would just puff up with pride," Shoemaker said. "He loved his family very, very much, and that was evidenced by that big smile of his."
Funeral plans had not been not announced by late Wednesday, but many who remembered him took part in a vigil Wednesday night at the Louden Nelson Center.
"This whole day I've just been looking at his face in my mind and just remembering him," said Deborah Elston, who with Bethke was a co-founder of the residents' group Santa Cruz Neighbors. "He was a really sensitive police officer "... a very concerned, considerate officer.
"People always say this when people pass away, 'He was this incredible person.' But it's true. He was the salt of the earth. That's the way he way was."