Honoring first responders who fight blazes, save lives and deter crime

POLICE STRONG Santa Clara County Sheriff Deputy Hakeem Lee helped break up a criminal sex trafficking ring, saving a woman from being sold into slavery.

Earlier this year on a Sunday afternoon in January, Morgan Hill Sgt. Troy Hoefling was serving as day shift watch commander when he went to patrol the city’s new downtown parking garage. There had been prior complaints of delinquent behavior on the upper levels. When the 27-year-veteran drove to the fourth floor he noticed a teenage girl sitting on the ledge and a dog tethered nearby. He called out, but she replied with a blank stare. Once near her, he noticed cuts on her wrist that were still bleeding. Still not communicating with him, Hoefling acted quickly and grabbed onto the girl and pulled her from the ledge, saving a potential teen suicide.
His was one of 10 brave acts recognized in a moving tribute last week at the Blue & Gold Luncheon put on by the Exchange Club of Gilroy at Old City Hall Restaurant.
Morgan Hill Police Chief David Swing paid tribute to the officers with a quote from Albert Einstein, saying, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch and do nothing,” adding that these officers did not stand by.
CHP Officer Jason Smith risked his life when, on December 23, 2015, he rescued an unconscious passenger from a burning vehicle. The collision on US-101 north of East Dunne Avenue in Morgan Hill had already claimed the life of the driver who was ejected from the vehicle when Smith arrived on the scene.
He soon learned from witnesses that no one had checked to see if there was anyone left in the vehicle now engulfed in flames. Smith immediately ran to the burning car and saw an unconscious female passenger. Unable to open the door, Smith broke the side window, reached inside the flaming car and dragged the passenger to safety.
“It is really important to give kudos to our police officers and firefighters who protect our community and go above and beyond, “ said Lisa Fleming, board president of the exchange club.
Retired Gilroy Police Chief, Denise Sellers received the group’s Book of Golden Deeds Award in recognition for her extensive volunteering in the community. Gilroy city councilman and Vietnam War veteran, Paul Kloecker, who served 22 years in the U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps received a special award for his contributions to the community.
Recommended by their superiors and lauded by their peers, the 10 honorees were commended for outstanding service to their community and going beyond the call of duty, whether that be through volunteering, a lifetime dedication to their career in public safety or putting their actual life on the line.
Those awarded were: Gilroy Fire Department Firefighter Mario Bena, Santa Clara County Fire District Fire Apparatus Engineer, Jeffrey Martin, CalFire Fire Captain Steven Blythe, Santa Clara County Sheriff Deputy Hakeem Lee, California Highway Patrol Officer, Jason Smith, Morgan Hill Police Department Officer, Troy Hoefling, South County Youth Task Force Coordinator, Bernice Aguilera Toney, and Gilroy Police Department Officer, Darran Cooner were recognized for their bravery and community service in front of local dignitaries at the annual bash on May 17.

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