How to Rise From the Ashes with Jason Schechterle
Jason Schechterle was horrified at the news of a Department of Public Safety Officer being burned to death inside his vehicle.
The officer was trapped in his Crown Victoria and died kicking and screaming in the flames. Jason thought the only thing worse than that officer dying in those flames, would have been if he survived with the kind of horrific injuries such a raging inferno would cause.
In a solemn pact made by two brothers in blue, Jason Schecterle made his best friend and partner Brian swear to him that if he was ever burned alive and survived it, Brian would put a bullet in Jason’s head. “I wouldn’t want to die like that,” says Jason, “but what’s worse is if you go through that and survive.”
He was joking at the time- sort of- because the odds of such a thing happening to him were so slim, but the thought still struck him with such fear that he made his buddy swear to that pact. It was a promise Brian would not keep.
Some people may think Jason Schechterle is the unluckiest person alive.
At first blush it’s easy to understand why; It took a series of random events, right down to the split second, to place him in that police cruiser, in that intersection, at that moment. Those random events put him directly in the path of the taxi driver who was in the midst of another of his regular grand mal seizures. The taxi he was driving rocketed through the 40 mph speed zone at a breakneck speed of 115 mph.
Jason made dozens of big decisions and extraordinary efforts in life to be wearing that blue uniform, patrolling the streets doing a job he loved. He’d made several seemingly inconsequential decisions that night that put him right there right then, in a vehicle designed by a company that knew it behaved more like a crematorium than a car under certain circumstances – circumstances exactly like the ones that had already killed people all over the country, and should have killed Jason that night.
A design flaw in the Crown Victoria caused the gas tank to explode when the out-of-control taxi slammed into it from behind. Just like in all the other cases before and after Jason’s accident, later tests revealed that had that fuel tank not been pierced, the vehicle would not have exploded, and the people in the vehicle would have sustained non-fatal injuries.
Some people may say that the result of all those random acts weaving time’s tapestry to create that precise moment, when Jason was trapped inside that Crown Victoria, being burned alive for 55 seconds, resulting in catastrophic injuries and devastating disabilities, makes him the unluckiest person alive.
Jason Schechterle begs to differ.
It’s a miracle he’s alive, he says. And for all the random acts that wove together to create that accident, countless others occurred to save his life.
A fireman who slept through the bell, a crew who had the precise instincts and courage required to perform extraordinary acts in 90 seconds, a top burn center within 2 miles of the crash site, and the exact people in the exact places they needed to be, to do what had to be done to get Jason through 2 1/2 months of life-or-death moments.
His wife Suzie was trapped in torment, part of her praying Jason would die and the other praying he wouldn’t. She made her own plea to God,
“God, if he can’t make it here on Earth, just take him. I will be OK and be able to take care of the kids. If you decide to leave him here with us, I swear I will do everything in my power to give him the best life possible.”
Jason’s mom Karen, with whom Jason had also talked about his fear of fire, was the only one who knew he would live. She is quoted in Jason’s book saying she knew if he could get out of that car, he was not going to die. As much as they loved him, many of the rest of his friends and family prayed he would die, because no one wanted him to endure the suffering they knew awaited him.
Jason’s buddy Brian sat by his bedside, gun in his holster, replaying that pact made months ago. In Jason’s book, Brian shares the moment he sat by Jason’s bed, talking to his comatose friend. “Sorry pal, You made it this far; I just can’t do it.”
Mercy would arrive for Jason but he would find it within himself, not through a bullet.
Some people are born fighters. They embrace adversity as an expected and perhaps even essential part of their path. While Jason admits life had never “punched him in the face,” he was still no stranger to struggle. His commitment to his path and his determination to overcome obstacles was forged in stone before his accident.
Perhaps it is that ingrained will to overcome that sustained him in those first months when all medical opinions were that his injuries were fatal. Perhaps it really was a miracle; his life preserved from God, so that he may serve as a sword in the crusade to put an end to other avoidable suffering and achieve accountability from those responsible.
Whatever the reason, Jason survived two and a half months in a medically induced coma. He endured over 55 surgeries. He learned to accept his new appearance, as his face had been burned to the bone. He learned to maximize the use of his severely disfigured hands and even managed to resume his passion for playing golf.
Doctors rebuilt his face to the best of their ability. Jason rebuilt his life to the best of his. He also worked with legal crackpots to successfully sue Ford Motor Company and put an end to the design defect that caused the Crown Victoria to explode.
It has not been an easy achievement for Jason to recreate himself and find a new purpose after his dream of being a police officer was taken from him. But, “Dreams die hard,” he says, and even after his accident, Jason managed to return to work for a while. He even achieved his true dream of being a homicide detective and that, he says, is something that can never be taken from him.
Through it all, Jason has been blessed with the unabiding love of his wife and the steadfast solidarity and support of his family- both the one he was born into and the one in Blue.
“I wasn’t alone,” Jason Schechterle says.
He credits his life to the people on scene that night who rescued him within 90 seconds of the crash. He credits his doctors for going all-in on his comfort and then his recovery, and he credits his friends and family with sticking by his side throughout it all.
Jason does not downplay his injuries or suffering, or the strain on his friends and family. He simply wraps that all into his story with a wicked sense of humor, shared by those closest to him.
Laughter bounces through his voice, for instance, when he shares how the same friend who made the pact with him suggested the name Chris P. as the pseudonym for his hospital say.
“Get it?” he laughs, “Chris – P? Crispy!”
His wife laughed along with his buddy. Jason still uses the pseudonym today for fantasy football.
This brand of dark humor isn’t for everyone. Some people are offended by it. Jason isn’t exactly indifferent to their opinions but he is unapologetic. Humor, after all, is one of the most underutilized tools in life.
Jason’s story is one of persistence, faith, courage, love, and humor. It’s message powerful, compelling, and speaks to anyone faced with adversity:
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