Six honor guard members from Pierce County and Tacoma are preparing for a bicycle ride from New Jersey to Washington D.C. as part of the annual Police Unity Tour.
This year takes on a new meaning, as some South Sound members ride to remember fallen Tacoma police officer Jake Gutierrez.
They’ll join 2,220 law enforcement officers from departments across the country to embark on a 300 mile ride to honor those who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
The honor guard members will fly out to the east coast to start their journey on May 9 and will cross the finish line May 12.
In 2016, there were 135 law enforcement officer fatalities nationwide. Sixty-four officers were shot and killed, and 21 were ambushed, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. In 2016, law enforcement fatalities rose to their highest level in five years.
“The violence towards law enforcement has changed,” said Pierce County Sergeant and honor guard member Chip Marquiss. “Rather than being an anomaly, it’s becoming the norm, and it’s sad.
Marquiss will ride in the Police Unity Tour along with Pierce County Corrections Deputies Eric Hamilton, John Lyon, Jon Blind, and Todd Klemme. New to the ride this year is Tacoma police officer Tel Thompson, who decided to ride in honor of Gutierrez, who was killed in the line of duty November 2016.
“It’s about raising awareness for the law enforcement officers that have given their lives, and it also helps raise money for the national law enforcement memorial where we’ll be riding to,” said Thompson. “Everyone there has probably lost somebody that they worked with and cared about, and it’s a good way to share the stories and a good part of healing. For me, this has definitely been a big step in healing for me in being with these guys. It hurt a lot emotionally when Jake died, and it took a lot to get used to the pain and working through it.”
As honor guard members, their unofficial motto is to “temper grief with honor.”
“We have to stand in front of everybody and be strong while everybody else is breaking down during the funeral,” said Marquiss. “This ride gives us a time to come together as a team and to do some healing for ourselves.”
“It was hard when Jake was murdered,” said Klemme. “When an event like that happens it opens the door to tragedy. You find things that work to just try to ease the pain.”
In some cases, Gutierrez’s death has changed the officers’ perspectives.
“I kiss my kids every day before I go to work,” said Thompson. “Yes there is that inherent danger that you know something may happen, and last year was a very deadly year for law enforcement, and this one hit very close to home and affected me very different than I thought it would.”
The honor guard members will also ride to remember others in the region who died in the line of duty, including Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputies Kent Mundell and Shandon Wright, Lakewood Police Sergeant Mark Renninger, Lakewood Police Officers Tina Griswold, Ronnie Owens, and Greg Richards, Kalama Police Chief Randy Gibson, and Seaside, Ore. Police Sergeant Jason Goodding.
Honor guard members wear memorial bracelets for the duration of the ride and will present the bracelets to the families of the fallen officers at the end of the ride.
“By doing this ride though, it’s like reaching out and honoring Jake for his sacrifice, he and his family,” said Lyon. “Because nobody can imagine what his family is going through.”
Six Pierce County and Tacoma honor guard members rode 48 miles from New York City to New Jersey Tuesday, embarking on the Police Unity Tour’s 300 mile journey to Washington D.C.
The team will ride 100 miles Wednesday.
The honor guard members are bringing mementos to give to the Gutierrez family at the finish line. Tacoma Police and honor guard member Tel Thompson will deliver a teddy bear to fallen Tacoma police officer Gutierrez’s grandson.
The KING 5 crew will be there on the last 100 miles of their journey.
South Sound honor guard members ride in Police Unity Tour
The Pierce County and Tacoma Honor Guard members finished the 300-mile Police Unity Tour bike ride Friday at the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“Today is the culmination. It's the day that we get to deliver all of the hope and memories and hard work," said Pierce County Deputy Todd Klemme.
For the final 40 miles, they traveled from Annapolis, Maryland, to Washington, D.C. They carried bracelets and mementos to honor the fallen and their family.
But the most important thing they carried wasn't strapped to their bicycles.
“Courage isn’t never being afraid. Courage is being afraid and still going in anyways. People think oh I never get scared of anything and I say no I get scared of a lot of things, but it’s still doing your job," said Tacoma Police Officer Tel Thompson
The honor guard is trained to stand strong next to the fallen their heroes. The ride is their way to grieve.
“I was with Jake when they took him to the hospital, to the coroners, to the funeral home. It brings up a lot of emotions again," said Thompson.
On the ride, they're surrounded by thousands with the same emotions.
“All of the love and the camaraderie and the respect, you just don’t get that every day," said Klemme. "It's awesome."
The finish line is the place where the names of the fallen are etched in stone forever at the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C. where loved ones can say hello again and where they can remember again.
Jake’s youngest daughter, Victoria, is overwhelmed by the support.
“Just knowing that people care through all this. You see how many people really care for you, even if they don’t even know you. It's great knowing that people are here to honor my dad," she said.
Law enforcement embark on Ride for Jake
The police unity tour concluded with a candlelight vigil hosted by the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The names of 394 fallen officers were read. These names are the were added to the National Law Enforcement Memorial. There were 135 officers that were killed in 2016, and others are names of people who were never added to the list, including many who died due to cancer and diseases they developed responding to the terrorist attacks on September 11.
“When it starts getting dark and they start handing out the candles and then they start lighting the candles and then you actually take a moment to kind of survey, it’s unreal. When they start reading the names and it keeps going and going and going. It’s very somber. You can hear a pin drop and there’s 10,000 people in the audience,” Pierce County Sargent Chip Marquiss.