Perry gives Star of Texas awards to first responders

Posted Thursday, Sep. 12, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Gov. Rick Perry and hundreds of often teary-eyed friends and relatives on Thursday honored police officers, firefighters and other first responders killed or severely hurt in the line of duty.

Many recipients of the Star of Texas awards were volunteer firefighters who rushed to West after the April 17 fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people.

“Texas first-responders know there is no such thing as routine, not in their jobs,” Perry said. “Anyone in this room knows how this call, this noble service, carries with it a great element of danger.”

The governor distributed the awards during a somber morning ceremony at a megachurch in north Austin. Some 363 awards have been distributed since it was first given out in 2004.

Receiving special posthumous awards were Kaufman County District Attorney Michael McLelland and his wife Cynthia, who were gunned down in their home in March. Their deaths came two months after the assassination of assistant DA Mark Hasse, who was among 17 slain peace officers who received awards.

Also honored was U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata, who was killed in Mexico in 2011. Authorities believe his killers were members of the Zetas drug cartel.

“The Texans we honor here today are the best our state has to offer,” said Perry, who wore the glasses that have recently become common during his public appearances. “People for whom honor and courage and dedication are a way of life. They’re the people who exemplify the meaning of ‘love thy neighbor.’”

Five members of the West Volunteer Fire Department who were killed and many volunteers at nearby fire departments were honored, as was Kenneth Harris, a 52-year-old Dallas firefighter who was off-duty when the West fire broke out but nonetheless scrambled to help at the scene.

This year, the Legislature created Citizens’ Star of Texas Awards for ordinary Texans hurt or killed while assisting first responders. Receiving those were two men who helped the West Volunteer Fire Department — Jimmy Matus, a 52-year-old sales manager for a company that built fire trucks; and William “Buck” Uptmor, 45, who owned a fence-building business.

West Mayor Tommy Muska accepted the award on behalf of Matus’ family.

Four Houston firefighters killed in a massive May 31 motel and restaurant blaze were also given Star of Texas awards, as well as four firefighters who were severely injured in that fire. Among those killed was Anne Sullivan who Perry noted: “was working just her second fire.”

Among first responders from the Fort Worth area who were honored were:

• Arlington police Officer Craig Story, a motorcycle officer killed in January 2010.

• Hood County sheriff’s Deputy Lance McLean, killed in July at a rural residence north of Granbury.

• Arlington officer Toby Douglass, a motorcycle officer injured in 2008.

• Fort Worth police Officer John Bell, wounded in January in a shootout in Haltom City.

• Montague sheriff’s Deputy James Boyd, wounded in March by a fugitive from Colorado.

• Granbury police Officer Chad Davis, wounded in July in a shootout near City Hall.

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