By Vanesa Brashier, email@example.com
A larger-than-anticipated turnout to the benefit for Liberty County Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Whitten on Saturday resulted in an astounding $105,100 being raised to help Whitten as he recovers from a May 29 shooting incident that left him partially paralyzed.
Held at Trinity Armory in Cleveland, an estimated crowd of 4,000 people attended the event and took part in the sale of barbecue, a car show, live and silent auctions, and range shooting.
Jack Wieghat, co-owner of Trinity Armory with his father, Splendora Police Chief Wally Wieghat, helped organize the event with a host of Whitten’s friends and peers in law enforcement. Wieghat said the initial goal was to have 2,000 people in attendance and $50,000 raised. In the end, both projections were doubled.
“I am just blown away by the community’s turnout and support. Every volunteer who helped make this possible and every donor who donated, this is a true testament to how beautiful this community can be when we all come together,” Wieghat said. “We wanted to give Deputy Whitten’s family something, even though we knew whatever we raised would not be enough. This is just a small token of our appreciation for Deputy Whitten. He will be dealing with this for the rest of his life. Hopefully the money we raised will help his family get through the hurdles of the first year.”
Barbecue plates – prepared by contestants in the barbecue cook-off and served by the Cleveland Lions Club and members of the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, among others – were sold out by noon.
“That was 800 pounds of meat and all of it was gone by noon,” Wieghat said.
The last 10 briskets were auctioned off for $100 apiece.
“I’ve seen the community come together, but to do this on such short notice is nothing short of amazing. Then to see our community spend that kind of money. People who won auction items donated them back. We had one bidder multiplying the bids. He probably added another $20,000-$30,000 just by himself,” Wieghat said.
Liberty County Sheriff Bobby Rader, who was there working throughout the event, felt encouraged by the outpouring of support from the community.
“One thing it makes me realize is that a lot of stuff you read in the news – not Bluebonnet News – is that law enforcement is looked down upon. This turnout – from Polk County, Chambers County, Harris County, Montgomery County and other counties – proves otherwise,” he said.
According to Rader, while most of Whitten’s medical bills will be covered by Workman’s Comp, there are some needs that should be helped by the money raised on Saturday.
“His house will need to be handicapped accessible. There are a lot of things they are going to need. He might need some durable medical equipment that won’t be covered. This will help offset that,” Rader said.
Whitten’s condition has improved slightly in recent days. He is alert and still has movement in his right arm and hand.
“He has a trach in right now, so he can’t talk to visitors, but he can nod. He can’t answer but he can blink his eyes,” the sheriff said. “I understand they are trying to reach a certain level in his care and once they get him there, he will be moved to TIRR (Memorial Hermann Hospital’s rehabilitation center). We are looking forward to getting him there.”
Eran Denzler with the East Montgomery County SRT and one of the organizers of Whitten’s benefit issued a thank you to the community on social media Saturday night. In his post, Denzler called Whitten a hero for facing down a murder suspect in the May 29 incident in Cleveland, even though it meant possibly forfeiting his own life for the safety of the community.
“Today was only about one person – Deputy Richard Whitten. Today wasn’t about who did what, planned what, or who did the most! It was about the burden that this man and his wife Kami have taken on now, and how their lives will forever be changed because he risked his life to save others and stop a criminal in his act,” Denzler said. “He is a true hero and today it showed how much he is appreciated. I can’t thank everyone that helped to make today possible because there are so many, so please know in your heart you are appreciated and by so many people! You responded to the call, the call for a brother in blue in need! Liberty County may be a small Texas county, but this small county has a huge heart.”