ETBU sheriff donation

East Texas Baptist University President Dr. Blair Blackburn, right, presents Harrison County Sheriff Tom McCool with a $5,000 check on behalf of the university to purchase life-saving tourniquets. Members of the Commissioners Court approved the acceptance of the donation.

Christmas came early for the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office as the department accepted a wealth of donations on Wednesday and also received the OK to purchase a new patrol car.

“I think I’m going to change Christmas day to June,” Sheriff Tom McCool teased as he addressed the Harrison County Commissioners Court regarding the actions.

The first donation accepted for approval was in the amount of $5,000 from East Texas Baptist University. ETBU President Dr. Blair Blackburn said the money is to be used for the purchase of life-saving tourniquets, which are devices that apply pressure to a limb to limit the flow of blood.

“On behalf of the ETBU family, we express our appreciation to the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department, to Sheriff McCool, and to give thanks to God for the sacrificial service of the deputies that represent Harrison County and also the jailers and so many personnel that protect and serve the citizens of Harrison County,” said Blackburn. “We desire to express our gratitude to law enforcement, peace officers, with a donation, specifically presented to the sheriff’s department.”

Blackburn was inspired to donate the funds after learning how the life-saving tool assisted Marshall Police Department Officer Zachary Lastra, who was severely injured while responding to a welfare check in the 2900 block of East Travis Street on May 13.

While trying to pursue a fleeing suspect with an outstanding warrant, the officer was struck by shattered glass that broke when the suspect went through a window.

“He received life threatening injuries, severe lacerations to his forearm and arm,” said Blackburn.

At that point, he was unable to continue his pursuit due to the loss of blood. Blackburn said Lastra knew at that point he was an officer down and needed backup.

“He knew death was imminent because of the amount of blood he was losing. But, thankfully, he had a tourniquet,” said Blackburn. “He applied that, which slowed the bleeding, but he continued to lose blood. He has expressed that he started praying and asking God to save his life.”

Detective James Wayman, who was returning home from a workout and heard the radio call for help, responded to assist. Noticing that the first tourniquet hadn’t completely stopped the bleeding, the detective retrieved his own tourniquet from his car and placed it onto Lastra’s arm.

“He applied that second tourniquet, which saved Zachary Lastra’s life,” said Blackburn. “That evening he had surgery in the local hospital and was actually released and went home … . so (he went) from imminent death to life to release and then a recovery, then back on the job as one of our fellow law enforcement officers in partnership with Harrison County Sheriff’s Office.”

Blackburn said when he heard the story the very next evening while at ETBU’s annual law enforcement appreciation luncheon, he felt compelled to help the sheriff’s office with the purchase of the same devices.

“The sheriff’s table was full and I happened to move over to another table to sit next to deputy Dwight Mays,” Blackburn recalled. “We sat together and sat across from the police chief of Marshall, Cliff Carruth.

Through the police chief, they learned how the tourniquets had saved Lastra. The chief told them how fortunate MPD was to be able to purchase a tourniquet for every officer, thanks to a federal grant.

“Had they not received that grant, Zach wouldn’t be with us today, we understand,” said Blackburn.

With that revelation, the college president wanted to make sure that the sheriff’s department was equipped with the same life-saving measures, too.

“So I turned to Deputy Mays and asked does the sheriff’s department have these tourniquets. He said unfortunately we do not have them,” Blackburn recalled.

Mays told him that the provision of the tourniquets had been his prayer since learning about Lastra’s incident.

“He said that’s my prayer. So at that point, I felt the Lord direct me …. that ETBU would step forward and make an investment in our Harrison County Sheriff’s Department and provide these tourniquets so if our officers and deputies faced life threatening injuries they would have these tourniquets and be able to save their own lives … to save the lives of their fellow officers.”

Blackburn was happy to make the $5,000 check presentation on Wednesday.

“We’d be most grateful if you receive this as a token of our appreciation in the investment of the lives of these members who represent us each and every day, on the streets, on the roads of Harrison County,” he told the court.

County Judge Chad Sims thanked the ETBU family for their support. Sheriff McCool echoed his sentiments.

“Your kindness and your concern … the university’s generosity … we are so grateful,” said McCool.

In other business, the sheriff’s office also accepted private funding for the purpose of a special narcotics K-9.

“We really look forward to developing that particular program to be utilized in public work places, schools and so forth,” said McCool. “We think it’s going to be a great program for us. We’re just so fortunate and blessed.

“Another individual happened to be very generous as well and gave us the money to purchase the dog.”

The K-9 will be purchased from the same Little Rock, Arkansas kennel.

“(A) premier group of dog trainers and handlers up there are very pleased with their professionalism,” said McCool.

In other business, the court approved the purchase of a patrol car in the amount of $44,000 for the sheriff’s office to be funded from excess revenue produced by interest earned.

“I appreciate the court’s consideration of assisting me in upgrading our patrol fleet,” said McCool. “We’re in dire need of upgrading our fleet.”

Judge Sims thanked County Treasurer Sherry Rushing and Auditor Becky Haynes, who serve on the three-member investment committee with him, for investing money wisely.

“We know this is a need the sheriff’s department has,” said Sims.

“I would like to thank (them) for investing our money so that we can do something like this in service for our sheriff’s office,” said Sims.