Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 | 2 a.m.
A retired Las Vegas cop who saw his share of death in 34 years in policing hopes a website he has created will help combat some of the misery associated with death by letting the dead “speak” with the living.
Along the way, former Metro Lt. Randy Sutton sees his site as potentially life-changing. The site will allow "members" to store video, audio and writings that can be accessed by family, friends or co-workers after the user dies.
It also can serve as a historical record of the deceased, which Sutton believes will drive those who use it to do more good in life.
While that sounds like the dream of someone who spent more than half their life in law enforcement, Sutton thinks it can happen.
“It makes you think, ‘How do I want to be remembered?’" he said. “If we can raise the consciousness of people by making them think about their lives, we will change the way people will actually live their lives.”
Sutton nods and smiles when a listener chuckles.
“I don’t like sounding naive because after 34 years as a cop, I’m a realist in many ways,” the 56-year-old said. “But it’s true; I’m also an idealist.”
The idea for celebratinglegacy.com came to him as he lay close to death on the pavement in front of Bally’s casino.
Moments earlier, Sutton noticed difficulty putting thoughts into words. His EMT training told him he was having a stroke. He got out of the car, and by the time he lay down, he barely knew his whereabouts.
“That’s what this was born from: the trauma of death and near death,” he said, noting his mom died three weeks earlier. “Then when the doctor told me, ‘We can’t do much for you; we don’t want you to think there’s is anything we can do to prevent another stroke or heart attack,’ you start looking at your life a lot differently.
“Death has never been a stranger to me, but you really reflect on your life and think of how you want to be remembered — and I didn’t want my mom and dad’s life to die with me. They contributed too much.”
The site isn’t available for use yet. Sutton, who spent his life savings and more than two years working on it, says it will be operational in June.
His business team includes Barry Hall, former chief financial officer for EarthLink, who loved the idea and is now his CEO. Rich Becker, a UNLV instructor, designed the user experience; Dale Sprague of Canyon Creative designed the site.
“The most important thing this site is intended to do is bring families together,” Sutton said. “That’s why we created the Family Journal, which I think is a social networking tool more robust than Facebook.”
Family Journal allows the archiving of photos, journal entries and videos “so they can be shared forever, so your great-grandchildren will know who you were, what you stood for.”
Cost for a membership to the site will be less than $50 for the first year, then about $10 per year afterward.
The site also will allow users to write or prerecord messages for friends, co-workers and loved ones that will be sent upon the user’s death. Sutton said many times people don’t learn for weeks, even years when someone they knew has died; this will allow notification quickly.
A failsafe system has been devised to ensure erroneous death notifications aren’t sent out.
Aside from generalized death notifications, the site also will let users record personal messages timed for released via email to specific people on specific dates. For instance, a father who knows he will die while his child is an infant could record or write a message the child will receive upon his or her 18th birthday.
When in operation, the site will give members the opportunity to leave messages in a variety of media for postmortem delivery. The messages will be archived in perpetuity for their intended recipients. In the event no email addresses are available for the intended recipients at the time of the member's death, Sutton said there will be a way for message recipients to access the website at the appropriate time.
The members also will be able to search for others in the network — for example, to find people, photos and backgrounds of those associated with an Army platoon or who worked in a certain business or locale.
“It occurred to me that we rarely tell even our closest friends and family how we really, truly feel — out of social convention or we don’t want to be ‘softies’ or embarrassed," Sutton said. “Personally, if I felt my death was imminent, there are things I want to say to people who have been close to me all my life. That’s something that would bring me great comfort.”
Sutton’s life has been punctuated with extreme lows and meteoric highs. In the introduction to his 2006 book, “A Cop’s Life: True Stories from the Heart Behind the Badge,” he writes of suicidal thoughts while sitting alone in his home after a night shift.
A decade later, he says one memory that brought him out of that dark place was Jacky Martinez, a little girl whose life he saved 15 years ago.
Martinez was 1 month old, in a car seat as her parents drove on Sahara Avenue by the Eureka casino, when a stranger fired into the car and shot off most of her face.
First to the bloody scene, Sutton cleared the girl’s throat and gave her mouth-to-mouth as they rushed to University Medical Center.
She recently celebrated her 15th birthday with a quinceanera, where tradition dictates that her first dance goes to her father. Martinez did that.
She gave her second dance to Sutton.
More than any of the awards or commendations Sutton received, he said, “thoughts of her and her life probably have more meaning than anything to me. How could I consciously do that knowing what she went through?”
Suicide is not how Sutton wants to be remembered. Maybe others will reconsider similar thoughts if they think about how they will one day be remembered.
“How will our family members we love think of us? What will our legacies be?” he said. “I hope this website contributes to that kind of thinking and to making the world a little better place.”