It was a perfect day for a bike ride-temperatures in the low 70s, with overcast skies. Hundreds of riders had gathered in a hotel parking lot in East Hanover, New Jersey, for the kick-off of the 2009 Police Unity Tour.
Police Unity Tour 2009: A Time to Remember
Chairman & CEO
Over the next four days (May 9-12), these officers and other groups starting in the southern part of New Jersey and the towns of Chesapeake and Portsmouth, Virginia, would ride bicycles some 300 miles to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. They would do so in honor of America’s fallen law enforcement heroes. Their motto is short and powerful: “We ride for those who died.”
I was preparing to join them for the first 20-mile leg of the journey to Newark, New Jersey, when a friend and organizer of the Tour, Jimmy Waldron, said there was someone I needed to meet. He brought me over and introduced me to a woman named Miriam Fernandez. Jimmy explained that Miriam was the mother of Alex Del Rio, a Hollywood, Florida police officer who had been killed in an automobile crash on November 22, 2008, while pursuing a speeding motorist. Miriam had flown to New Jersey so she could meet the remarkable men and women participating in the Tour, especially Jim Manley, a New York officer who was riding in Alex’s honor. She talked to me about how proud she was of Alex and how important it was to keep his memory alive. The Tour would help, she said, as would a special foundation she had started back in Florida in Alex’s name.
Later on, I would open Alex’s file kept at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, to learn more about this special person. I learned he was 31 years old when he died and had served for almost 10 years. The press clippings described him as an exceptional police officer who loved his job. Hollywood Police Chief Chadwick Wagner described Alex as “a beautiful human being . . . I am blessed and proud to have known him,” he said.
At his funeral, Miriam read from a letter she had written to her son. She vowed to carry on in life the way Alex would have wanted. “I will live, love and laugh a lot,” she said. “Go in peace, my son. You are my hero and my angel in the sky.”
Meeting Miriam Fernandez was one of many poignant moments from the 2009 Police Unity Tour….
Originally published in American Police Beat, July 2009