Local NFL player honors fallen BCSO crash victims

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – On Sunday, an Albuquerque native took a step to say thank you to four New Mexico heroes, and it happened on national television, on the NFL gridiron.

Albuquerque native Zach Gentry is not only making big plays on Sunday, he’s making a big impact on those in the New Mexico’s law enforcement community.

“Yeah, that’s incredible,” said BCSO Sgt. Charles Lill. “I actually didn’t know about it until this morning and, you know, the texts are starting to fly around now.”

Lill is taking over the Metro Air Support Unit for the Bernalillo County Sheriffs. He first heard about Gentry’s cleats Sunday morning.

“I think it’s great that somebody on a national level is bringing attention to some of the good things that police and fire and everybody else is doing in public service,” said Lill.

The NFL has a “My Cause, My Cleats” program where players can wear cleats to bring attention, or raise money for a particular cause.

On the Steeler’s website, Gentry says “It was close to home. That tragedy happened when I was back home between OTAs and training camp.”

Gentry graduated from Eldorado High School in 2015. He remembers the services for the four Bernalillo County first responders killed in a helicopter crash over the summer. It happened after they were helping fight a wildfire in northern New Mexico. 

“It was touching to see the way the community came together and honored them. I wanted to do something like that too,” said Gentry. 

“He’s gone out of his way to remember some that gave their lives for the citizens of New Mexico,” said Lill. 

He says he has around 250 flight hours. Larry Koren, who led the unit when he died, had thousands of hours of experience.

“The first time I got back in the helicopter there was a little bit of jitters there. But, it’s nothing I’m concerned about,” Lill said. 

He says it will be baby steps to get the Metro Air Support Unit back to where it once was. But the steps Gentry took today, will forever be remembered by those who knew, and carry on the legacy of fallen four.

“I just want to say thank you to Zach Gentry for bringing more attention to it,” Lill said. 

Gentry says his cousin is a firefighter in Albuquerque, and he is thankful for all they do.

According to the NFL, some players can choose to auction their cleats with the proceeds going to their identified organization. We’re following up to see if Gentry’s cleats will go up for sale.

As for what caused the crash that killed BCSO Undersheriff Larry Koren, Lt. Fred Beers, Deputy Michael Levison, and BCFD Rescue Specialist Matt King it is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The preliminary report gave a timeline of events, but no clear cause. A full report from the NTSB could take years.