Driving the "Road to Hope" for families of the fallen
Cross-country journey raises money for C.O.P.S., increases awareness among the general public about the ultimate sacrifice that officers sometimes give
By Craig Prystay (with Sgt. Steve Gibson, ret.)
Drivers, Bloggers, Fundraisers, and
Special Contributors to PoliceOne
At 0830 on Day Five of our journey for C.O.P.S. Road to Hope, we said goodbye to Mike Romero and our Blue Knights Arizona Chapter VI escorts, and headed out east bound on the I-40. At 1030 hrs., we met our next escort, Blue Knights New Mexico Chapter VI at the Route 66 Casino. We had three riders — Rick Parsons, Vice Chair of the Blue Knights South West Conference and past president of BK New Mexico VI, along with Ed Rodarte BKNM, VI President, and "Bud" Washburn.
We were also joined by two Bernalillo County Sheriff's Deputies. Our escorts took us to Albuquerque PD headquarters, where we were met by several APD officers — including the Chaplain and Deputy Chief — as well as six mounted officers. There was also three TV news crews (NBC, ABC, and the Albuquerque Journal) and they interviewed us about the Road to Hope. In 2009, New Mexico lost three officers in the line of duty. After the interviews, the chaplain said a prayer for a safe journey and — along with two APD patrol cars — we were on our way again.
On Day Six, we drove from Clinton, Oklahoma to McAlester Oklahoma. At 0830 hrs, we left Clinton heading for our next meeting in Oklahoma City with OK Trooper Betsy Randolph. We first met Betsy four years ago when she was the PIO and we always stop to say hi.
Betsy signed on behalf of the three Oklahoma officers killed this year. After a short visit we were on our way to the next stop — the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.
It was an eerie feeling walking on the grounds of the memorial knowing that 168 men, women, and children had been murdered here on April 19, 1995. The memorial has a field of empty chairs — bronze and stone chairs — each symbolizing a life lost, with 19 smaller chairs representing the children. This year was the 15th anniversary of the bombing.
Day Seven was Mothers Day. Our trip was planned to take us from McAlester, Oklahoma to Jackson Tennessee. At 1000 hrs. we met the Eales Family in Checotah Oklahoma. We also met members of Blue Knights OK Chapter 1, along with David (Zebra Man) Stone, Tina Stone, as well as John and Brenda Bryant. As we do every year, we invited the Eales family to sign the Hummer. Four the last four years they have signed the letter that Alison wrote when she was twelve for her father Rocky Eales, which is printed on the tire cover of the Hummer.
The inscription reads:
I am thankful that even in death, my dad taught me courage. He knew the difference between right and wrong and sadly gave the ultimate sacrifice trying to do what was right.
— Allison Eales, 12 years old
We said goodbye once again to the Eales family and headed off with the Blue Knights for 200 miles. We stopped in Russellville, Arkansas where we were all treated to lunch by David.
We said goodbye to our escort, and continued on our own — off to Jackson, Tennessee — thinking, “Happy Mothers Day to all the Moms.”
On Day Eight, we drove some 400 miles across Tennessee — from Jackson to Johnson City. On this morning we were met by President Steve Elrod and Ten Blue Knights Tennessee Chapter IX riders, plus two patrol cars from Putnam Sheriff’s Office and Cumberland Sheriff’s Office. They took us 80 miles through two counties. We were invited to lunch but regretfully had to say ‘no’ as we had to meet Blue Knights Tennessee Chapter VI at 1500.
In the afternoon we met President Bob Moser and 25 Blue Knights Tennessee Chapter VI riders. They took us 60 miles to Johnson City TN. We display the name of one of their founders on both sides of the Hummer. Johnson City PD Ofc Jim W. Smith Jr. died as a result of injures suffered in an on-duty motorcycle accident in 2007. Once in Johnson City, we were treated to dinner courtesy of the club — Johnson City PD Chief John Lowry also joined us.
On Day Nine, it was another 355 miles, this time from Johnson City, Tennessee to Fredericksburg, Virginia. We were met again in the morning by Blue Knight President Bob Moser and three more Tennessee Blue Knights Chapter VI riders — as well as two Johnson City PD vehicles — and were escorted for 40 miles toward the Virginia border.
We then were met by Blue Knight James Cullen and two more members of Virginia Chapter XVIII as well as Jack Wise of Chapter VI. We had coffee and then they signed the hood on behalf of the State of Virginia Blue Knights. They would have ridden with us, but it was raining too hard so we then headed to Fredericksburg.
On Day 10 we covered the remaining 47 miles from Fredericksburg Arlington, Virginia. We helped escort the Law Enforcement United Bicycle Riders (over 250 riders) to the Pentagon. At the Pentagon we were met by Kelly Cross, President of Law Enforcement United and Suzie Sawyer, Executive Director of C.O.P.S (Concerns of Police Survivors). Also present were Jennifer Thacker, National President of C.O.P.S., and C.O.P.S Past President Shirley Gibson. A welcoming ceremony was made at the Pentagon and awards of appreciation were presented to the riders and support staff.