Crime Watch: Saving a Hero's Place
When a first responder is killed in the line of duty those who knew and loved them do not want their sacrifice to be forgotten. A non-profit has created a way to make sure a fallen hero always has a place.
At the front of the Williamson County Sheriff's Office meeting room, is an empty chair reserved for a deputy who will never return.
"He was one of those deputies that was always active and always doing a great job out on the street,” said Captain Pete Hughey.
On August 6, 1985 Sergeant Robert Wright was assisting Austin police in a pursuit when he slid off the roadway and hit a tree. His legacy lived on by word of mouth, until very recently.
"Every day those officers walk in and see that chair it's a reminder of how dangerous it is out there,” said Hughey.
They are also reminded of the great sacrifice they may one day make.
Officer Tommy Capell learned of his possible fate very early on in his career. Two months after graduating the San Antonio police academy, one of his cadet class members was killed by a drunk driver.
"It was devastating because we all just graduated,” said Capell.
"Changed all of us. All of us. The families, the kids, the spouses. It just put everything into a different realm, a different perspective of what we were doing what we were living,” said Capell’s wife Robbie.
Then it happened again, and again.
"Every year after that for the next four years there was one killed as well. We experienced early on the loss and the risk we take,” said Capell.
Capell and other officers in his cadet class created a non-profit called Saving a Hero's Place and began making what they call hero chairs with the friend they lost in mind.
"The chair saves their place at the station they were at. Because when you're at roll call everyone is sitting in a chair, A lot of times in the same chair. I sit in the same chair every roll call. Most people do that and so when officer is not there it's not void you know you're there joking around and that guy is not there anymore. So it's meant to save their place at the roll call so that they're always there with you,” said Capell.
Each person has a different role. Capell's wife Robbie stains the wood, Officer Brandon Bunch helps build them.
"We put a lot of effort into making a chair specific to the officer or first responder that were making the chair for,” said Bunch. "Our classmate’s chair, Sergio's chair, says our brother, our guardian, our inspiration. That was something that we came up with and it means a lot to us. He's kind of the whole reason why we are where we are today. He's our brother from our class, our guardian because he's watching over us now and he's our inspiration for what we're doing now."
The team has now built and delivered 33 chairs to departments as far away as Boston for the MIT officer killed by one of the Boston Marathon bombers in 2013.
Locally, the group has created chairs for fallen Travis County Deputy Jessica Hollis, Hutto Police Department Sgt. Chris Kelley, and will travel to Burnet County next. There is no limit to where they will go.
"We're all the same,” said Capell. "For us, they're our family. We want to honor them."
Saving a Hero's Place also creates memorials for firefighters, EMS and K-9s.
If you would like to donate, follow the link here: Saving a Hero's Place