WOODWAY, Texas (KWTX) An event raising money for the families of McLennan County police officers and firefighters killed or critically injured in the line of duty, hit home Thursday night as one of the police departments in the county had an officer shot, the first in its history, earlier in the week.
The 2019 Heart of Texas 100 Club Annual Fundraiser Gala Keynote Speaker Randall Prince, Deputy Director, Texas Dept. of Public Safety. (Photo by Ryan Edwards)
McLennan County's finest packed the Carleen Bright Arboretum in Woodway for the Heart of Texas 100 Club's Annual Fundraiser Gala, many of them who, two-days earlier, had been chasing down the man who shot Hewitt PD Officer Clint Brandon as he was responding to a bank robbery in progress.
Brandon was at home recovering from his gunshot wound to the arm, however, the officer's Chief, Jim Devlin, and several of his department comrades attended the event on his behalf.
"Our job now is to stay in contact with that family to make sure if there's any other needs, because it takes a while for the emotional piece of what happened to kind of 'sink in' and then 'process out,' so our organization will be standing right next to our Chief and their department," said Sandy Pechacek, Executive Director for the Heart of Texas 100 Club.
Through ticket sales, live and silent auction, and membership dues, the event helps the non-profit raise money for the surviving children and spouses of the local men and women who sacrificed their life and/or livelihood to protect the public, simultaneously showing appreciation for active first-responders.
"Our donors, at each of their tables, had four special guests to be dined and honored, so most of our tables have a law enforcement officer or a firefighter or one of our paramedics or EMTs," said Pechacek. "They are just here as our guests."
Keynote Speaker Randall Prince, the Deputy Director for the Texas Department of Public Safety, talked about the honorable trait most of the people in the room shared: putting their lives in danger for the greater good.
"We are simply the caretakers of our community," said Prince.
Since 2012, the HOT 100 Club has been building partnerships and fundraising to help pay for expenses like funerals, mortgage debt, and education for those who no longer have a spouse or parent who can.
"To the members of the Heart of Texas 100 Club: we recognize you as the individuals that are packing our parachutes," said Prince. "Though we never want to deploy them, if the unthinkable occurs, we know you're there to help stand in our place."
Until recent years, only police officer families were covered, however, Pechacek, the wife of Chris Pechacek, Assistant Fire Chief for the Waco Fire Department, fought for firefighter families to be included.
She says she's now trying to make that same level of support available to the families of the county's EMTs and Paramedics, too.
Pechacek said last year's gala raised $68,000 but expected this year's event to far exceed those numbers.
"It has been a great success," she said.