Stories of the Police Unity Tour

The leadership of the Police Unity Tour has always stressed the word “unity” in the organization’s name. Every rider wears the same uniform. Every one has the same minimum fundraising goal ($1,700 per rider). And every participant chooses a fallen officer that he or she rides in honor of. But within that united front of law enforcement honor and fellowship are literally hundreds of stories of individual courage and compassion. Here are just a few of them.

Trooper Dean Kerklo, Pennsylvania State Police

In September 1999, Trooper Kerklo was shot in the chin when he intervened in a domestic violence dispute. The bullet lodged in the sixth vertebra of his spine, leaving him partially paralyzed. His family and colleagues were concerned that he might not live, let alone walk again and return to the job he loved. But after hundreds of hours of hard work and rehabilitation, he did walk again and he did return to the PA State Police. In December 2001, he was one of 11,500 people to carry the Olympic Torch on its way to Salt Lake City. This year, he decided to get on his bike and join the Police Unity Tour. He rode in honor of Eric Kelly, Stephen Mayhle and Paul Sciullo – the three Pittsburgh Police officers gunned down in April 2009 – and also his 14-year-old daughter, Carlie, who, sadly, passed away last year from a heart ailment. “She fought and pushed so hard throughout her life. She is one of the reasons that I am not feeling sorry for myself,” Trooper Kerklo said.

Michelle Canfield

Last year at National Police Week, Michelle was a first-year survivor. Her husband, Deputy Larry Canfield of the Sacramento County (CA) Sheriff’s Office, was killed in a motorcycle accident in November 2008. Larry was the one who always organized northern California motorcycle cops to come to DC for National Police Week. Last year, dozens of Larry’s colleagues and Michelle were here to honor him. This year, Michelle is back in DC riding in memory of her husband and all of the dedicated motorcycle officers who have fallen in the line of duty.

Toshi Kempkes

Toshi is the big sister of Sergeant Daniel Sakai, one of four Oakland (CA) Police officers shot and killed by the same gunman on March 21, 2009. Toshi eulogized him so eloquently last March: “My brother was one cool dude. His work wasn’t ‘work’ to him, because he loved it so much. He was a man amongst men, the best of the best.” Now, she has honored her brother by riding in the Police Unity Tour for the first time. Oakland has always had a major presence in the Unity Tour, this year especially so with the sudden, violent deaths of Sergeants Mark Dunakin, Ervin Romans II and Daniel Sakai, and Officer John Hege. Twenty-four riders and 25 support personnel, many of them on motorcycles, make the journey from Jersey City (NJ) to the Memorial.

Lakewood (WA) Police Department

Like Oakland, the Lakewood (WA) Police Department experienced the execution of four of its officers in 2009. Sergeant Mark Renninger and Officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens II and Gregory Richards were gunned down in a local coffee shop, as the officers prepared for their shift on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Members of the Lakewood department had never heard of the Police Unity Tour before early January, when an Oakland police officer called and mentioned the ride. That called inspired four members of the Lakewood Police Department – Sergeants Mark Eakes and John Fraser, and Officers Michelle Hector and Charles Porche – to take part in this year’s ride. The officers felt it was important to have four riders, one for each of their fallen colleagues.

Sergeant Cade Veigel, North Salt Lake City (UT) Police Department

Sergeant Veigel attended National Police Week 2009 in support of Katy Skinner, the wife of fellow North Salt Lake Officer Charles Skinner, who died in the line of duty on November 8, 2008. Sergeant Veigel and Katy attended the 2009 Police Unity Tour arrival ceremony. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Sergeant Veigel observed an officer from Goodyear (AZ) walk over and greet Katy. That officer, who Katy had never met or talked to before, had just finished his four-day journey riding in honor of her husband. Katy said she was so overwhelmed at the time that someone would take several days out of his life to honor a fellow officer he didn’t know, that she was speechless. So she just decided to give him a hug. Witnessing that exchange inspired Sergeant Veigel to join this year’s Unity Tour. He rode in honor Sergeant Jeffrey Shaw, of the Kosciusko County (IN) Sheriff’s Office, who died in 2009. Sergeant Veigel said he chose Sergeant Shaw because he died under similar circumstances and at about the same time of year as his friend Charlie Skinner.

Carol Sakofsky

Carol has been a member of the Police Unity Tour for seven years. In fact, she was one of the first law enforcement survivors to ride in the tour. Each year, she rides in honor of her son, Military Police Officer James T. Sakofsky, of the United States Army, died in the line of duty on June 1, 2001. For a number of reasons, Carol had to miss last year’s ride, but she was back for 2010. She continues to provide leadership and support to other survivors who want to honor their loved ones by riding a bicycle 300-plus miles over several days.

Paul DiNardo

Detective MarcAnthony DiNardo, of the Jersey City (NJ) Police Department had planned ride in this year’s Unity Tour, joining the long tradition of Jersey City cops in the ride. He had gotten a bicycle and begun training. But Detective DiNardo was tragically gunned last July in a shootout with armed robbery suspects. He was described as a “cop’s cop,” always ready to jump in – sometimes literally – when people needed help. Just one month before his death, Detective DiNardo and fellow members of the Emergency Services Unit rescued a woman who had jumped from the Wittpenn Bridge into the Hackensack River. To honor his brother and fulfill his desire to take part in this year’s Police Unity Tour, Paul DiNardo, MarcAnthony’s brother, rode instead. This year’s send-off ceremony took place in their hometown of Jersey City.