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Police Officers Ride To Support Fallen Heroes

About 500 officers take part in 250-mile Police Unity Tour.

They rode for the police officers who had given up their lives in the line of duty.

To honor these heroes, about 500 police officers from all over the country met last week at the Springfield District Police Station to prepare for the 250-Mile Police Unity Tour which started Monday, May 10. The officers who raised $1,250 each just to participate in the ride, each received a bracelet with the name of a slain officer. For Master Police Officer David Patton of Fairfax County, his bracelet had special meaning.

“I’m riding for Sgt. Ricky Timbrook who served in Winchester, my home town. He was shot in the face and killed while pursuing a drug dealer. This feels me with pride because the man did what was right.”

THE THREE-DAY bike tour raises money and awareness for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., where a candlelight vigil is held each year a day after the ride. The money is also used to provide assistance and support for the family members and survivors of officers killed in the line of duty.

“If a family member wants to come in and participate in the candlelight vigil, this allows them to do that, to participate,” said Patton. “It gives them closure to see the name etched on the wall.”

After riding 250 miles, the officers reach the memorial on Wednesday, and return on Thursday in full dress uniform for the candlelight vigil. “It’s very emotional,” said Patton.

Patton, who has served in Fairfax County for 15 years, is riding for the first time this year. “We receive a great deal of support,” he said, describing the food and Gatorade donated by the public.

A convoy of volunteers follows the riders during the tour to offer assistance. A medical crew helps the riders with pulled muscles or any other conditions they might have. Volunteers load the officer’s belongings in a hotel each night, and repair the bicycles on the road. “If someone gets a flat,” said Patton, “they can hop on a maintenance track and get repaired really fast. There’s a great deal of help out there for us.”

Volunteers are also asked to raise money for the tour. “My wife raised $700 to carry our bags around,” said Sully Capt. Bill Gulsby.

THE FIRST DAY of the three-day tour starts in Chesapeake and progresses through 105 miles of mostly flat terrain. The second day, the hardest of the three, traverses through 64 miles and requires the officers to constantly climb uphill. “We do get a ferry ride though,” said Patton. Officers ride 60 miles on the third day and arrive in the District mid-afternoon.

“We make a collective effort to train,” said Gulsby, referring to 60- and 90-mile training efforts he and his officers had made.

“The captain is a fitness fanatic,” said PFC James Kirk, one of Gulsby’s officers.

Some 43 riders from Fairfax County rode this year, and Patton expected up to 500 officers to ride in total. “It’s pretty cool,” he said.

Six officers from Honolulu rode this year, a first for the tour. Hawaii has never been represented before. “We lost two officers this year,” said Officer Ninette Vonier from Honolulu. “That’s a lot for the area.”

PFC Loriann LaBarca, an officer with the Sully Police Department, rode for Deputy Stephen Sorensen, an officer with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who died last August after being shot responding to a trespassing call.

Since the first recorded death of police officer in the year 1792, more than 17,100 officers have been killed in the line of duty. “The etchings are done almost daily,” said Patton.

Speaking about the tour after the ride, Gulsby said, "It was great. As we got closer to D.C., elementary school teachers would bring their students out to the curbsides, and they would wave and greet us as we rode by. It's nice to know that the Police Unity Tour message got out there, and that the sacrifice the fallen officers have made is appreciated."

According to Gulsby, five officers were treated for heat-related issues, and three of them were taken to the hospital. "They were quickly reunited with the tour through the support vehicles. No one was left behind."