The annual event brings 2,500 riders together May 12-13 at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Joe and Melissa Cassidy and Talco Construction have made significant donations to the Winter Garden Police Department’s Police Unity Tour team for several years. Now it’s time for Joe Cassidy to do some bike-riding of his own.
Cassidy — Talco owner, a military veteran and a Winter Garden resident — has committed himself to this year’s 254-mile ride, which begins May 10 in Portsmouth, Virginia, and culminates May 12 in Washington, D.C. A candlelight vigil is held May 13.
The annual three-day ride raises awareness of law-enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty and raises funds for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and Museum, both located in the nation’s capital.
All participants ride in memory of an officer who died in the line of duty the previous year. Cassidy will ride for Brevard County Sheriff Deputy Kevin Stanton. Teammate Andrew Raphael, a former chapter president and retired Winter Garden police officer, is riding for two in his 14th year: Jermaine Brown, of the Miami-Dade Police Department, who was killed in an off-road vehicle crash; and William Allee, former NYPD chief of detectives who died last year of a cancer related to working at Ground Zero after 9/11.
“It’s so much more than a bicycle ride,” Raphael said. “The impact of dealing with the survivors is what keeps me coming back year after year. … Watching them heal is a big deal.”
Raphael has been taken part in the ride for 14 years. He was so impressed with the event that he got a tour tattoo on his left calf after the first year.
Cassidy has been a serious bike rider for less than a year but already is adept at handling 100-mile practice rides with the team.
Others on this year’s local team are WGPD Capt. Scott Allen, who isn’t riding but continues to support the effort; WGPD Sgt. Jorge Coello; WGPD officers Dave Vernon, Melissa Jackson and Travis Waters; and Bill Smith, a local man whose brother was killed in Tallahassee in the line of duty.
All riders wear metal bracelets inscribed with the names of fallen officers. Riders typically get in touch with the family, and relatives who attend the memorial ceremony at the end of the bike ride will be given the bracelets.
Raphael buys an extra bracelet for himself, and he wears it all year before replacing it with a new bracelet.
He invited Cassidy to last year’s ceremony in Washington, D.C., and after witnessing the magnitude of this moving event, Cassidy accepted another invitation to participate in this year’s ride.
“I couldn’t be more honored personally to be invited and to be a part of this,” Cassidy said.
The ride is broken into segments of 113, 75 and 66 miles, and while the miles decrease in number each day, the number of hills increases, Raphael said. The average pace is 15 mph. Riders stop at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, and when all the chapters arrive, they begin the two-mile procession together toward the memorial and museum.
Allen rode for Windermere Police Officer Robbie German and Orange County Deputy Scott Pine in 2015 and for Kissimmee Police Sgt. Sam Howard in 2018 but is not riding this year. In other years, he has assisted by making donations, helping raise funds and getting on his bicycle and pushing riders during training rides.
“I have attended way too many funerals for officers who have been killed in the line of duty, several of which were close friends,” Allen said. “These officers sacrificed everything to protect their community, and it seems that their memories appear to fade quickly to those not immediately affected by their deaths. … We are keeping these officers’ memories alive, providing support for their families and honoring true heroes.”
Local municipalities are among those represented. Winter Garden has two names on the memorial, Windermere has one, Orange County has 20, and Orlando has 16 (including one K9).
The museum and memorial are privately funded; a large portion of the proceeds goes toward maintaining the memorial and researching and adding names.