Gainesville Police Sgt. Kevin Gaddis and Officer Griggs Wall are riding to Washington to honor two fallen officers they never met.
As he rides 250 miles on a bicycle over three days next week, Wall will carry a metal bracelet etched with the name of Cpl. Dennis Engelhard, a Missouri state trooper who was struck and killed by a car on Christmas morning, 2009.
Gaddis, who will trail Wall in a support van, is riding in honor of Cpl. Norman Smith, a Dallas, Texas, gang unit officer shot to death in January 2009 while serving an arrest warrant.
“We ride for those who have died,” Wall said, as he prepared for his first run of the Police Unity Tour, which starts Monday in Portsmouth, Va., and concludes three days later at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. “It’s an honor to be a part of it. And we still need to keep their memory going.”
Wall has been training for the ride since August by riding the hilly terrain of Habersham County.
The two officers raised about $6,000 in pledges from local businesses and individuals for their ride, far exceeding the $1,800 minimum required of each riding team. The money goes to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund.
Last year, the Unity Tour raised $1.3 million, and since 1997, the ride has raised about $7 million for the memorial and museum.
“Our mission is to raise awareness of those who have died in the line of duty.” Gaddis said.
Gaddis said he looks forward to the candlelight vigil at the conclusion of the ride, in which riders escort family members to their seats.
“That’s a very emotional time, and from what I understand the families really appreciate that,” Gaddis said.
Gaddis and Wall are the first Gainesville police officers to take part in the ride, which they learned of through their friend Joey Brown, a Georgia State Patrol lieutenant stationed at the Gainesville post who is also participating.
The 174 members of the southeastern chapter have raised more than $360,000 for the ride.
This year 324 names will be added to the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial, including the names of 116 who were killed in 2009. Nationwide, officer fatalities increased by 30 percent over the previous year, Gaddis said.
Gainesville has not had an officer killed in the line of duty in many decades.
“Hopefully we never have to participate in this to honor one of our own,” Gaddis said.
Gaddis believes the sight of 1,200 officers riding into the heart of the capital together should be an awe-inspiring.
“For me, this may be one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences,” Gaddis said.