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Former cop overcomes horrible burns with courage, heart

By Judi Villa
Rocky Mountain News

LAKEWOOD, Colo. - Jason Schechterle knows it would have been easier to die in the fiery wreck.
The flames burned away his face and ate at his head and hands. Fourth-degree burns. Fifty-two reconstructive surgeries. Permanent disfigurement.
Schechterle never wanted to die, though, never wished he had. In the 7 1/2 years since a speeding taxicab slammed into his patrol car, turning it and him into a fireball, the former Phoenix police officer has not only rebuilt his life, but also morphed into an inspirational speaker.
His message: Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.
"The one true blessing we have, the one thing we have control of, is our attitude," Schechterle said. "It's the only thing you have control over every single day, every situation. You get to decide what your attitude's going to be."
Schechterle, 35, was in Lakewood on Tuesday to speak at a conference focusing on mental fitness for law enforcement.
Lakewood police Cmdr. Jeff Streeter said Schechterle was a "first choice" for the conference because he's the epitome of mental strength.
"It touches everybody, maybe everybody just a little different," he said of Schechterle's story. "But it has to touch everybody."
Schechterle had dreamed of being a Phoenix police officer since he was 16, but he was an officer for only 14 months when his patrol car was rear-ended in March 2001. He was on fire for 55 seconds. A doctor told his family he wouldn't survive.
The young officer was in a medically induced coma for three months. When he awoke, he was blind. He couldn't walk or even feed himself.
Three weeks later, alone in the middle of the night, Schechterle had a moment of clarity: If it hadn't been him, it would have been somebody else, and maybe they wouldn't have been lucky enough to survive.
"So I thought that night, I'm going to be proud of who I am and how I look, and I'm going to feel like I did my job in some small way," Schechterle said.
That attitude would carry him through rehabilitation and the transition home, where his son didn't recognize him and his daughter was afraid to touch him. Nursed by his wife, Suzie, Schechterle learned to walk again and feed himself. Slowly, his eyesight came back. The couple had a third child, a boy who now is almost 6.
And Schechterle went back to work at the Phoenix Police Department, first as a public information officer and then as a homicide detective.
Two years ago, he retired. His hand injuries were too severe; he couldn't qualify to carry a gun.
Today, Schechterle owns a company that provides nonemergency ambulance transportation. He's come farther than he ever dreamed possible.
"There is not a single person in this world that I would trade places with, not one," Schechterle said. "I have the best life anyone can imagine. I look forward to every single day."

Wire Service
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