A 300-mile bicycle ride to benefit the families of fallen police officers will start in New Jersey and end in Washington, D.C. But for many local police, this year it began here in Middletown.
On Sunday, Sgt. Mike Faria of the Middletown Police Department and Officer Joe Carroll of Newport put together a local fundraiser to help raise funds for the next Police Unity Tour to be held in May. Their motorcycle ride fundraiser started out in the parking lot of Scotty's Big Dawg's Restaurant and Pub in Middletown.
"The four-day, 300-mile bike ride takes place on May 15th which is 'Law Enforcement Memorial Day'. Each member who participates must raise $1,750.00. A candle light vigil is held on May 16th," Carroll said.
In 2011, there have been 122 officers killed in the line of duty across the United States, according to the officers.
The money raised from the Unity Tour also goes to the families of the officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Money goes to lodging, transportation and stress counseling for these families.
The local event on Sunday also coincided with 9/11 remembrance events held across the state and nation. Carroll explained, "Today is an appropriate day to honor those lost. '9/11/11 Freedom' is today's theme so we keep [the ride] in Rhode Island, because in Rhode Island only passengers on motorcycles have to wear helmets, not the drivers."
Local police officers have been taking part in the annual Police Unity Tour for the last six years.
In 2005, Newport Police Department Officer Ryan Duffy had mourned the loss of his friend, Brian Jackson of Middletown, who had been killed in the line of duty while working as a police officer in Dallas, Texas.
Duffy and Lt. Patrick McMann of Charlestown had heard about the Police Unity Tour and decided to make the 300-mile benefit ride from New Jersey to Washington, D.C. to honor the fallen and their families. Since then, nearly 20 local officers participate each year.
Newport Police Dispatcher Tracy DeSantis on Sunday noted, "The money raised also goes towards the 'Law Enforcement Memorial Wall' in Washington, D.C. which is in Judiciary Square. It is the only memorial to add names to it each year...Directly across the street they are building 'The Law Enforcement Museum' which is underway now."
For Sunday's local fundraiser, the Rhode Island Motorcycle Association helped turn out a lot of riders. Rick Stewart heard about this event through that organization.
"All of us are military or prior military and thought it would be a worthwhile cause supporting brothers and sisters of law enforcement and the first responding community," Stewart said. "A nation at war for the last 10 years, we've certainly gotten our fair share of recognition. We are here today supporting the law enforcement community."
Motor Maids, the biggest women's riding organization in the United States and Canada, was represented Sunday as well. Motor Maids was started back in 1939 in Providence, Rhode Island. Debra Ordner and Michelle Savoye said, "The rest of the motor maids are escorting the firemen to Ground Zero today so we are here to represent our very large group of women riders."
Before the ride began, Carroll's son, Stephen Carroll, age 8, sang the national anthem.
After the ride, all were welcome to enjoy an array of food and festivities at Scotty's Big Dawg's Pub & Restaurant.
To see our region's complete coverage of the 10-year anniversary, you can also follow our special Facebook page, Rhode Island Remembers 9/11.