Riders honor fallen officers
Clasped around 19-year veteran law enforcement officer Mike Cardell's left wrist are three bracelets, each one bearing the name and agency of a fellow police officer. A date follows each name signifying the officer's End of Watch — the date the officer was killed in the line of duty.
Along with 85 other riders, and a total of 144 escorts and support-staff, Cardell bicycled more than 70 miles Tuesday on the first of what will be a three-leg trek from Reading, Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C., to commemorate the start of Police Week. Sunday, May 15, is National Law Enforcement Day, and the week around it is filled with ceremonies and memorial services honoring those officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Cardell, an officer employed with the Upper Macungie Township Police Department in Lehigh County, is the vice-president of the Pennsylvania chapter of Law Enforcement United, an organization of current and former law enforcement officers and their families who raise money all year long for charities that support the families fallen officers leave behind.
It is called the Law Enforcement United Road to Hope Memorial Bicycle Ride.
"Throughout the year, our members throughout the country — police officers and survivors — raise money for the COPS (Concerns for Police Survivors) kids camp, and that money goes to help fund a run that camp for children whose parents have been killed in the line of duty," Cardell said.
Parents, too, attend the camps and receive peer support and counseling to help get through their grief and their change of life, he added.
"It helps the children, as well, meet other children who have gone through the loss," he said.
Divisions: Law Enforcement United is composed of four divisions: a Virginia division, which left Tuesday from Chesapeake, Virginia; the Pennsylvania division, which left from Reading; the New Jersey division, which left from Atlantic City; and the Ruff Riders, a mountain bike division composed of K-9 unit officers based out of Cumberland, Maryland.
"It’s a three-day adventure. We converge on D.C. on (Thursday, May 12), and every year it’s a different memorial that we go to," Cardell said. "We present the Concerns for Police Survivors (COPS) with a check for the kids camp, and we also give them money for their COPS walk, which is more for the spouses. And we have just voted to start a scholarship fund for the children whose parents have been killed in the line of duty."
Each rider raises a minimum of $1,500. Support staff members raise $700. Motorcycle officers, 23 of whom escorted Cardell and his cadre of riders Tuesday, raise money as well.
Some of the money raised goes to support the Officer Down Memorial Page, another outfit dedicated to memorializing officers killed in the line of duty and to supporting their families.
Fallen: Every officer carries with him or her the burden of the job they gear up to do each day, not knowing whether or not they will make it home to their family at the end of their shift. Cardell lost a friend and fellow officer in 2000 to a heart attack while serving a warrant on a suspect Cardell had been looking for. His name was John Ayello.
In 2001, another officer, a deputy with the Berks County Sheriff's Department, Kyle Pagerly, was shot and killed while tracking a suspect with his K-9 partner, Jynx. The suspect, dressed in camouflage and hiding atop a hill sprang up when Jynx exposed his hiding spot and opened fire with an AK-47, Cardell said.
According to Pagerly's bio on the sheriff's department website, Jynx tried to save his handler's life after he went down by pulling Pagerly out of the line of fire. Pagely was flown to Lehigh Valley Hospital but was pronounced dead shortly after arriving. The suspect was killed in the incident as well.
Stories like the ones Cardell shared make the journey personal to each and every officer and family member associated with the annual ride to Washington, D.C.
Among the support staff — who arrange everything from hotel stays and luggage carting to food services — were two teenage girls whose uncle had died in the line of duty.
Families: Kendall Mosley, 17, and Mikayla Mosley, 15, said their uncle Rodney Pocceschi was 33 years old when he died in 2003. Although the girls were both young at the time, the loss of their loved one stays with them.
Pocceschi, a Virginia Beach police officer, was shot and killed by two suspects fleeing after a robbery.
"He was a great uncle, very involved in his family and caring and patient," Kendall said.
Participating in the Road to Hope memorial ride provides the girls an opportunity to be with people who understand and share in their loss.
"I'm not the only one struggling with or who has lost someone," Mikayla said. "I've gained this big family through it."
Cardell, married with two children of his own, said he and his fellow officers know what they signed up for. But the ride is not about them, it is to honor and remember the ones who have gone before them and to provide support for their families, he said.
A purpose: "It gives me a purpose because, you know, there are a lot of ups and downs that come with the job, especially in this day and age with everything that has been going on in the country with the attitude toward law enforcement." Cardell said. "It kind of humbles you and gives you a different perspective of why you do what you do. You do it to help other people that you don’t know. And it is a way of giving back and shows the survivors that there are people out here who care about them, and we are going to do everything we can to take care of them and their families."
For more information on the Road to Hope Memorial Bicycle Ride, or to volunteer as support staff, visit the Pennsylvania division website at www.leunited-pa.org.