TUSTIN – A 630-mile bicycle ride in honor of fallen law enforcement officials ended Tuesday at the newly built Orange County Peace Officer’s Memorial, as authorities prepared for the first public event at the memorial.
For five days, a group of nine law enforcement officials from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, the Buena Park Police Department and the Santa Ana Police Department braved the elements and tested their endurance as they rode from a state memorial in Sacramento to the brand-new memorial in Tustin.
Joined by a contingent of more than a dozen fellow officers and supporters who met them at the county border, the nine officers completed their journey shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday, several hours before a candlelight vigil was held at the memorial.
Run over the past several years as a fund-raiser for Project 999, which provides support for the families of fallen officers, the annual memorial ride previously ended at the old Orange County memorial in Santa Ana.
“It humbles you; it makes you appreciate what you have,” said Deputy Eric Murray, who coordinated and took part in this year’s ride. “This ride represents a brotherhood among officers. It just shows how close we are.”
“It’s almost a privilege to be able to suffer for those who can no longer suffer and who have given the ultimate sacrifice,” added Buena Park police Lt. Kevin Shea, who took part in the ride.
The ride presented a test in endurance for the riders, stretching from Sacramento to San Francisco the first day, to Monterrey the second day, to San Luis Obispo the third day, to Carpinteria the fourth day and ending in Orange County the fifth day. The riders say they contended with a variety of weather conditions and ever-present wind.
“It was the windiest ride of all of them, the weather changes were the most severe, but the camaraderie of the people I rode with was outstanding,” Shea said.
Among those who joined the riders for the final push from the Orange County border was Christie Thompson, whose brother Daniel Ackerman, a Buena Park SWAT officer, died after a physical fitness-training in 2011.
“It meant a lot to me,” Thompson said. “It’s nice to honor him in a lively way. … This is our family, our men in blue.”
For the riders, Tuesday marked their first look at the permanent memorial, which sits across from the Sheriff’s Department training facility.
Anchored by a bronze statue of male and female law enforcement officers surrounded by a fountain, the memorial also features a wall with plaques commemorating the county’s fallen officers and deputies, a stone relief showing the evolution of law enforcement from officers on horseback to patrol cars and motorcycles and a “thin blue line” that lights up at the top of the wall.
Years of planning for the memorial came together in the final months as officials worked hard to complete the monument in time for the candlelight vigil and memorial ride, said Marilyn MacDougall, executive director of the Sheriff’s Advisory Council.
Officials say their goal was to create a quiet place where people could be reminded of the sacrifices made by law enforcement.
“I don’t want it to be a scary place but a peaceful place,” MacDougall said.
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