It may have been “National Thank A Police Officer Day,” but on Saturday more than 100 active law enforcement members of the Thin Blue Line Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club arrived from around the nation to thank a local 13-year-old boy, whom they called a hero, and to show appreciation to local first responders who cared for the 13 members of their club who were injured, four fatally, when a vehicle driven by a suspected drunk driver plowed into a line of the motorcyclists out for a ride on Highway 16 South on July 18.
Saturday’s event was held at River Star Park and was organized by Austin Chapter of the Thin Blue Line LE MC President Allen Turner, in part, he said, to create a positive situation from such a heartbreaking event, especially for Hal Peterson Middle School student David Guerra, 13, who was first on the scene of the horrific accident helping to put out fires alongside his mother, Ruby, and father, Donny. The accident occurred in front of the Guerra home.
“This is a celebration of life,” Turner said. “We what to show appreciation for what a lot of the first responders have done for us in this area on a bad day and we’re trying to change that, especially for this young man (David).”
Turner called David up to the stage, where he received a standing ovation from more than 100 members of the Thin Blue Line LE MC.
Turner commended David’s parents for raising such an amazing young man.
“For a guy his age to do what he did is truly remarkable,” Turner said. “As first responders, we are used to doing what we have to do. David didn’t have to.”
It was clear that young David’s actions on that fateful day truly touched each of the members present, but hundreds of other club members wanted to show their respect and appreciation as well.
Turner said he sent out an email asking for department patches, which are often collected by members of law enforcement from other departments, and was overwhelmed by the response.
“This young man has a collection that will be the envy of every police officer,” Turner said.
David was the center of attention for most of the morning, presented with gifts, trinkets and honors.
At the age of 13, David has been named an honorary member of the TBL LE MC and was given the official “road name” of “Angel,” since he was definitely an angel to those injured officers on the day of the accident.
“Being named a honorary member of our club is not an empty gesture,” Turner told David. “It means that you are part of our family. If you ever, ever need anything, all you have to do is call any one of these people and they will help you.”
In addition, the club’s foundation announced that a scholarship had been created in David’s name.
John Grigsby, who is an active law enforcement officer, said he was proud to honor David, because he knows first-hand the terror of the accident.
Grigsby was one of the injured TBL LE MC members, and one of two that had to be transported by helicopter to San Antonio for treatment.
Grigsby was on hand Saturday to present David with a memorial bracelet featuring the names of the four motorcycle club members who died as a result of the accident: Sgt. Joseph “Kelly” Lazo, Jerry Wayne “Wings” Harbour, Michael “Psycho” White, and Joseph “GT” Paglia.
“It has each of their names and end-of-watch dates on it,” Grigsby said. “I wear it every day.”
Grigsby, together with C.J. Cooley, active law enforcement from Sequin, presented David with the memorial bracelet.
Cooley was responsible for having the bracelets made.
“We had the names and end-of-watch dates engraved on the front and on the inside it says ‘Freedom on’,” Cooley said. “That is something that G.T. (Joseph Paglia) always said … even on his emails he would put ‘Freedom On’ and that mean a lot to us so we included it on the bracelet.”
While Gribsby could not recall young David’s actions due to his injuries, two other officers and club members did, saying that even seasoned law enforcement officers could not have been prepared for the grisly scene David witnessed.
“This scene was nothing like I have ever seen before and for a 12-year-old (David’s age at the time of the accident) to jump into action and start helping us was amazing,” Travis Jobes, active law enforcement officer, said.
“He was bringing garden hoses and buckets of water to help put the fires out. Him helping us kept us focused on what we needed to do and not what had happened to our brothers.”
Officer Tye Striker agreed.
“As law enforcement, I’ve never seen anything that horrific before either,” said Striker. “Just the fact that he was there and willing to help says a lot about his character. He’ll always hold a special place in our hearts.”
Turner said he was pleased with the event, seeing smiles and bonding over sadness and loss.
“Being a mental health deputy, I deal with individuals experiencing all types of trauma,” Turner said. “In this situation, with him (David) observing such a horrific event and him being right there to do what he did, as much as you see it as a hero’s act, which it is, it is also trauma.”
Just like law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMS crews, witnessing such events can be difficult to work through.
“These are all traumas that we have to work through in our lives,” Turner said. “He witnessed four deaths and I want to change his focus from the tragedy to a positive. He was a hero that day and that’s what we should focus on. I want him to know that he’s earned the respect of seasoned law enforcement officers and that he is now part of our brotherhood.”
Turner said making David an honorary member of the Thin Blue Line LE MC was not meant to be therapeutic, but rather a show of respect.
“His efforts that day were just as respected and appreciated as the professional first responders that showed up that day,” Turner said.
In addition to honoring David, local first responders were treated to a barbecue lunch. Many of those who were injured or witnessed the July 18 accident were present on Saturday and took time to say “thank you” to the Kerrville Fire Department, Kerrville Police Department, Kerr County Sheriff’s Office and volunteer fire departments who responded to the mass-casualty call.
Travis Waite, with the Turtle Creek Volunteer Fire Department, was one of those first responders.
“A couple of days after the accident, it was weighing on my heart to do something for you guys,” Waite said. “And I thought this was the best way to do it.”
Waite said he met with members of the TCVFD, Kerrville Fire Department and Kerr County Sheriff’s Office to create a memorial banner in honor of the four Thin Blue Line LE MC who died as a result of the accident. The banner was signed by all members of each department, as well as Guerra.
“Everyone in the county wanted to show our respect and we appreciate you all coming back out here and spending time with us,” Waite said.
After presenting the banner to Grigsby, all club members on the ride that fateful day joined Waite on stage to commemorate the event with a photo.”
Ruby said she was proud of her son and “his grandpa and dad were saying that now that he has a road name, we’re going to have to get him a bike.”
When asked to speak, David simply said “I’m speechless, but I want to thank each of you.”