A common saying among law enforcement and other service members is that they will “never forget” their fellow first responders that have fallen in the line of duty.
That mentality will show once again on the week of Oct. 5, when approximately 30 police officers, emergency medical technicians and firefighters will meet for the Gulf Coast Brotherhood Ride, a 450-mile bicycle trip and fundraiser aimed at honoring those who lost their lives.
“The purpose of this ride is to provide emotional and financial support to the families of the fallen,” said Capt. Craig Brouillette of the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office. “When a family thinks they’ve been forgotten, we come around, and we come back to that town to honor that family again to let them know that we have not forgotten them or their family.”
The ride will start on Oct. 5 in Sumrall, where riders will stop to honor Clinton Beasley and Loretta Sykes from the Sumrall Volunteer Fire Department. Beasley and Sykes were killed while directing traffic at the site of an automobile accident on March 17, 2017, when they were struck by a vehicle whose driver left the scene.
The driver, Brandon Chance Eaton of Sumrall, was sentenced to 20 years each on two counts of aggravated DUI, with 10 years to serve to run consecutively.
After leaving Sumrall, the group will head to Brookhaven to honor James Kevin White and Zachery Moak of the Brookhaven Police Department, who were killed in 2018 in the line of duty. The next stop is Lincoln County to pay tribute to Donald William Durr of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office. Durr, along with seven others, was killed in a shootout in 2017 during a domestic violence situation.
The group will pass through Baton Rouge, Franklinton, Mandeville and Slidell in Louisiana, and riders will also travel through Biloxi and Mobile, Alabama.
During each stop, the group will contact the head law enforcement official in the area, who will contact the families of the fallen to let them know the ride is passing through.
“We all have our helmets, and we’re cycling down the road with escorts,” Brouillette said. “When we get to one mile from that stop, we’ll stop on the side of the road, and we’ll put on the cap or helmet of that agency.
“At that time, we’ll come in total silence, two by two – very, very slowly – and that’s called our ‘Honor Ride.’ Then we’ll do a little wreath or something, and a presentation to the families. It’s not a memorial; it’s more of honoring their family to indicate that they have an extended family now, and they have not been forgotten.”
During the trip, the group stays in places such as churches and gyms, so as not to have to put any funds toward lodging.
“We don’t want to put any money out of our pocket, because all the money out of our pocket will go to the families,” Brouillette said. “So, whoever will put us up, and whatever food the town lets us eat, is what we eat. If it’s peanut butter and jelly, we’re happy.”
Anyone wishing to make a donation to the cause can visit the website http://bit.ly/gulfcoastride to give any amount in support of the ride.
“We train for this year-round,” Brouillette said. “We say we have ‘angels on our handlebars’ – when I’m riding and I start getting tired, I look at the person in front of me, and on the back of his jersey are the names of the ones we’re riding for.
“I’ll pick two of them, and I say, ‘help me get through this ride.’ And we get through it, because we’re honoring those guys.”
Brouillette said wherever the ride goes, the community always comes out to support the cycling group.
“A lot of times, they think they’re forgotten about, and they say, ‘oh my God, you’re coming in for us?’” he said. “They just can’t believe we’re coming in for them.
“This is my fifth year to ride, and I ride two a year, and every year it gets better and better. The families just love the idea of us coming through, because we come in at a time where it’s been a year and a half or two years later. Things are quieting down, and we want them to know that they have not been forgotten and we are coming back.”