We spent a few hours last Saturday night at the 5th annual Jason Schechterle Scholarship Ball, and enjoyed ourselves immensely.
Schechterle's name (and his face) are recognizable to most Valley residents: He's the former Phoenix cop who was rear-ended by a speeding taxi in his Ford Victoria cruiser a decade ago and suffered the most horrible burns imaginable.
His inspirational fight back to a fairly normal life (guy plays a mean golf game) has been well-documented, and he is a man to be admired.
The sellout event, held in south Phoenix at the Arizona Grand Resort, was presented by the 100 Club of Arizona, a non-profit that, among other things, provides financial assistance to firefighters and law enforcement officers seriously injured in the line-of-duty, in addition to the families of officers who died in the line-of-duty.
The master of ceremonies was none other than Jack Ballentine, a legendary Phoenix cop (we've written a bunch about his cases) who retired from the PPD a few years ago and now is the director of the fire investigations unit at the Phoenix Fire Department.
Ballentine is a piece of work, and he was able (through the terrific "audio-visual aids" that carried the show) to keep those in attendance engaged in the goings-on, even those who insisted on checking their I-Phone and Blackberrys every 30 seconds or so to see how ASU was faring down the street in football against the USC Trojans.
Ballentine introduced several dozen gussied-up students (the sons and daughters of law enforcement and fire personnel) receiving college scholarships from the 100 Club and numerous other donors. Each of the kids seemed thrilled to be there.
The big award winners for the evening also had their moments in the spotlight, after extended video presentations showing who they are and what they did:
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* Phoenix fire captain Travis Kerr won the Firefighter Outstanding Performance Award for his "amazing compassion and empathy" in assisting an elderly Sunnslope woman who had fallen and hadn't been heard from in a week. Simply put, Kirk went above and beyond in trying to help the woman after she was stabilized in the hospital.
* Phoenix police detectives Ray Egea and John Justus won the Public Safety Officer Outstanding Performance Award for their long investigation into a white supremacist group that had committed untold murders, rapes, kidnappings, and armed robberies. Their efforts resulted in the arrests on serious felony charges of a dozen members of the Vinlander's Social Club.
* Dr. William Leighton won the Lifetime Achievement Award. Leighton is a veteran surgeon who specializes in reconstructive and aesthetic procedures. He has performed about 50 surgeries over the last decade on Jason Schechterle, reconstructing Jason's burned face and other parts of his body step by painful step. Leighton, by the way, is a truly funny guy, and had the audience howling at some of his irreverent comments.