PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5)--Tuesday marks 18 years since Jason Schechterle's police cruiser was rear-ended, burst into flames, and caused disfiguring burns to his head, face and hands.

This date also marks a second meaningful anniversary for Schechterle, as his father passed away on the same day, March 26th two years ago.

Over the years, Schechterle has shared his story in front of many crowds, with uplifting messages of survival and hope, and becoming one of the Valley's most accomplished motivational speakers.

Today, he is the new spokesperson for Serenity Hospice.

March 26, 2001 is a day that changed Jason and the Schechterle family forever. A cab driver struck Schechterle's parked cruiser at an estimated 100 miles per hour.

It was an accident that nearly took his life. His Crown Ford Vic burst into flames trapping Schechterle inside.

Schechterle spent more than two months in a medically induced coma. He was blind for eight months, and over the years, he has undergone more than 50 surgeries.

Schechterle's recovery was very public, making him an inspirational figure in the Valley. Remarkably, less than four years after his injuries he joined the Phoenix Police Department's homicide unit as a murder detective and investigated dozens of violent crimes.

Throughout the years, he has encouraged audiences to overcome adversity, and find inner strength.

He is also the subject of the book "Burning Shield" and asks you to, "imagine looking in the mirror one day, smiling at the man in the uniform, with no way of knowing that is the last time you will ever see that face."

These days, Jason's new venture, and second career, involves working as a spokesperson for Serenity Hospice and Palliative Care in Phoenix 

In an interview with Schechterle, you might find his words to be profound and his story impactful.

Jessica Parsons: You give motivational speeches all over the Valley and throughout the years, what are the overall messages you want your audience to hear?

Jason Schechterle: "The biggest thing I want people to take away is the lesson I’ve learned many times over the past 18 years: You can’t let the pain you feel today blind you to the promise of tomorrow. Adversity, pain, suffering -- those are all temporary. The more you can adopt the attitude that life matters, the more you give time a chance to heal whatever is wrong."

Parsons: With this anniversary, how does it affect you and your family?

Schechterle: "March 26th, that date, has played an enormous role in my life. Phoenix Police Officer Mark Atkinson was murdered in the line of duty on March 26,1999. His death inspired me to join the police department. Two years later, March 26, 2001, I was very nearly killed in the line of duty. Then, exactly two years ago to the day, my father Fred -- my hero my entire life -- passed away after a fight with esophageal cancer. I don’t generally get caught up in anniversaries, but I think you’ll forgive me if I feel like March 26th might be jinxed. It’s a heavy day for my family. It weighs on my mom, because she’s missing my dad. On the positive side, my son has a baseball game this afternoon and I will definitely be there. I’d love to see him hit a home run or something, but if he makes it through March 26th without getting hit by a pitch, that will be a great March 26th for us."

Parsons: With the loss of your father, these were dark days for your family, an example of strength, fortitude, courage...how did you get through it?

Schechterle: "My dad was a huge hero to all of us. He was my best friend, my golfing buddy, my inspiration. His loss was really difficult. But at the same time, I always remind myself that I was in my mid-40s when my dad passed. A lot of people don’t get to have their father with them for that long, and his presence was a blessing. The hospice process, his final days, also made it easier on our family. Hospice gave my father not only compassion and comfort, but also a degree of autonomy. My dad made his own choices about the end of his life, to make it easier on us, and he took enormous pride in that. I guess if I had to sum up how we got through it, I would tell you it wasn’t much different from how we got through my accident. It’s about perspective. I miss still my dad. I miss his voice, his smile. I choose to dwell not on the loss, but on the beauty and strength that defined his life. When I think about my dad living to be 75, I don’t cry about it. I smile and feel blessed for the man that he was."

Parsons: Your survival was nothing short of a miracle, how do you explain it?

Schechterle: "This is something I could talk about for hours, because the answer is so complex. I mean, like 800 things contributed to my survival that night 18 years ago. There was a fire engine literally at the intersection where I crashed. I had 4 incredibly trained professionals right there when the accident happened. The best burn center in the country was about 2 miles away. I had an amazing wife who stuck by me, great kids, friends, an entire community that has supported me for 18 years. Certain things in this world are much bigger than me – God, miracles. I can’t explain those things, just like I can’t come up with a definitive answer to the question, “Why me?”

"Here’s what I do know: A lot of police officers have been killed in the line of duty. Some of them were killed in crashes like mine. Others like Officer Paul Rutherford, made the ultimate sacrifice under different circumstances. If I am to honor their sacrifice, to be a brother to my fellow officers and their families, then I had better use the time I have left on this Earth wisely. I need to continue to help people, and to live the best life I can live, because anything less would be unacceptable."

Parsons: In addition to motivational speaking around the U.S., you serve as a spokesman for Serenity Hospice in the Valley. Can you describe your work and your decision to join Serenity in their mission?

Schechterle: "At heart I have always wanted to serve people, to make their lives better. That’s what made me become a police officer - I wanted to lock up bad guys and keep people from danger. The people I’ve met at Serenity Hospice share that mindset of service. Helping people, serving with real compassion, that’s a true calling for hospice workers. Their compassion and strength moved me and made me want to be a part of the team.

When my father was cared for in hospice, it was an eye-opener for me. Hospice made the last stage of his life peaceful and comfortable, and it helped my family cope with an enormous burden. Working with Serenity, I’ve seen the value in that kind of care and I’ve learned that hospice is not what we think it is. Hospice isn’t just a few days of care in a facility. Some people use hospice services for weeks or months. Hospice can be done in a facility or at home. Getting that word out, introducing people to Serenity and how they can help you and your loved ones, feels like a continuation of my public service. That means a lot to me." 

Parsons: You're a pretty funny guy, injecting humor in your speeches whenever appropriate, how much do you enjoy it?

Schechterle: "What happened to me on March 26, 2001, has only made me stronger and better. When I speak to folks, I want to make them laugh a lot, and maybe cry a little. I do my best to be real -- vulnerable, humble, honest -- and to show them that the more we embrace those qualities, the more we can really connect with people."

For more information on Serenity Hospice and Palliative Care, click here

Jessica Parsons is a segment producer and reporter for Good Morning Arizona.  She has a knack for great storytelling so be sure to watch Good Morning Arizona to catch one of her stories.
 
 


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