The annual Hood County Sheriff’s Office employee awards were presented Tuesday night, but this time there was a special, new category.
In honor of Patrol Sergeant Lance McLean, who died on June 29 as a result of a gunshot wound suffered in the line of duty, the Sheriff’s Office now has a new award designated “The 129 Hero Award.” McLean’s radio call number was 129.
The large plaque has room for multiple 129 Hero Award winners in the future, but for now it only bears the name of Lance McLean. Near the bottom, it states, “The ‘129 Hero Award’ is dedicated in memory of Sgt. Lance McLean, who paid the ultimate price, sacrificing his life for the citizens of Hood County.”
McLean’s widow Katy McLean, who is a school teacher in Hico, was on hand for the awards ceremony, held at Annex I.
Previously, McLean’s heroism in giving his life protecting residents had earned the Star of Texas award, presented by Gov. Rick Perry to Katy McLean in September. In November, McLean’s name was added to the Lost Lawman Memorial Wall along with four other Texas deputies killed in the line of duty during the previous 12 months.
The Supervisor of the Year award went to Patrol Lieutenant Randy Ellis, who along with Captain Steve Smith were two of McLean’s closest friends within the Sheriff’s Office. Ellis, who earned Supervisor of the Year for the second time, came up with the idea to create The 129 Hero Award after he volunteered to be on the awards committee, Smith said.
Smith said the 129 Hero Award will be different than the annual awards, in that it won’t automatically be presented each year – only after a Sheriff’s Office employee does something “above and beyond” work that is deserving.
“You gotta do something special to get on that one,” Smith said Wednesday. “It’s the highest honor that a Hood County employee could be given.”
As for the loss of their friend, Ellis said, “You don’t ever get over something like that. You’ve just got to learn how to live with it.”
Smith said, “This year brought the whole department a whole lot closer.”
The captain also praised the leadership Sheriff Roger Deeds uses in running the office, and “the way he treats all of us.”
The 129 Award plaque will be kept on display in the squad room.
Smith and corporal Denise Lizun tied in voting by Sheriff’s Office employees for Employee of the Year. It was Smith’s third time to be honored with that award. Lizun was Deputy of the Year for 2012.
In another tie vote, Mike Stafford and Frank Benitez were named co-winners of Deputy of the Year.
The Investigator of the Year is Gay Johnson. Donna Churchwell was voted Jailer of the Year.
Frank Hackett was named Animal Control Officer of the Year for the fourth time. The Dispatcher of the Year is Mollie Fitts. Wendy Brake is the clerical Worker of the Year.
“Everybody that works for the Sheriff’s Office votes,” Smith explained, adding that he did not remember any previous tie votes for the annual awards during his 15 years of service as a deputy.
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