NOVATO, Calif. - As the Marin County Sheriff's Department mourned Deputy Ryan Zirkle, so did the community he grew up in.
"He just really cared about his school," remembered Mike Casper, Assistant Principal at San Marin High School in Novato.
Zirkle was killed in a solo car crash shortly after midnight Thursday, while responding to a 911 call.
"This is a tough time, tough for all of us, we are grieving," said Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle, at a news conference in which many department staff were teary-eyed.
Zirkle had been with the agency about 2 and a half years.
"Deputy Ryan Zirkle was 24 years old. He was due to celebrate his 25th birthday in 11 days," said Doyle somberly. "He was part of a new generation of young deputies, and our future."
Zirkle was driving on Highway 1 near Point Reyes Station, when he spun out on a curve.
The driver's side of the sheriff's cruiser hit a tree, trapping him.
When he didn't check in, his partner was sent to check on him, and found the wreck.
It took another half hour to extricate Zirkle, then he was airlifted to Petaluma Valley Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
It wasn't raining in the crash area at the time, but the winding highway was wet from prior rain.
"We're all just trying to process it," said Casper, who noted the Zirkle family is well known in the San Marin community because Ryan's two older brothers also attended the high school.
"Ryan was the starting point guard of the basketball team, probably our best defender," described Casper, pointing to photos from the 2011 Mustangs yearbook.
"He was our quarterback, he was the star shortstop in baseball, and he gave it 110 percent all the time," recalled Casper.
Zirkle's senior year, San Marin's basketball team won a league title, and Casper recalls Zirkle was a natural leader, easy-going off the field, but fiercely competitive on it.
"He was always smiling, always interested in others, very kind," said Casper, "and I think Ryan really loved Novato and the Bay Area in general."
Even after college, and beginning his career at the Sheriff's Department, Zirkle would stop by his high school, as recently as last month, helping out at a basketball game.
"I would see him and talk to him, ask him how he was doing in law enforcement," said Casper, "and I thought that was perfect for him. He was so happy with what he was doing."
Besides his brothers, Zirkle is survived by his parents, and his fiancee, with whom he recently bought a house in Petaluma.
She was his high school sweetheart.
"Ryan was enthusiastic. He wanted to serve the community he grew up in," said Doyle. "His friends and beat partners described him as always having a smile on his face, always happy, always very positive."
The 911 call Zirkle was responding to was a hang-up, an incoming call with no one on the line.
When Zirkle's body was released by the Sonoma County Coroner's Office, a law enforcement procession accompanied the hearse to a Marin funeral home, with people standing in the rain, paying respect from overpasses and sidewalks along the route.