Police officers plan annual bicycle ride to D.C. to honor fallen comrades
by Kara Lopp
When 70 local police officers hop on their bikes to ride the 420 miles from Charlotte to Washington, D.C. next week they’ll be wearing a patch in honor of fallen Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer Fred Thornton.
And his window, frankly, says she’s overwhelmed by all the attention.
Thornton, 50, of Mint Hill, died Feb. 25 after a flash-bang grenade exploded in his Ashe Plantation garage. He was just four months from retirement and spent 28 years with the department, serving on the SWAT team since 1987. Officials say he was likely killed after Thornton incorrectly tried to replace a pin in the grenade.
“It’s sort of humbling, all of this attention on Fred,” wife Linda Thornton said of the patch being made in honor of her husband. “I’m honored that they think of us.”
On Tuesday, May 10 police officers from Charlotte-Mecklenburg, the Mecklenburg County Sherriff’s Office, the N.C. Highway Patrol, Homeland Security, Monroe and Kannapolis police departments will ride their bicycles 420 miles in four days to reach Washington, D.C. Friday, May 13 in time for the annual candlelight vigil at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. The fifth annual event was created after the 2007 deaths of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officers Jeff Shelton and Sean Clark, but the death of Thornton has given participants a renewed reason to ride, officers say.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer William Irby, 35, of Matthews knew all three fallen officers. He’s been a police officer for nearly 11 years and has been with the department his entire career.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to add another officer to our ride. But it’s just kind of giving it a renewed sense of why we’re riding,” he said. “We can write about it or collect donations or put a memorial together, but to actually do something physical in their honor is just really special.”
This will be Irby’s third year riding and the first year riders will all wear official “Bike to D.C.” jerseys and, of course, the special patch in honor of Officer Thornton. Every member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg SWAT team will receive a patch as will Linda Thornton. Linda will join well-wishers at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police headquarters to see riders off.
Donations are also being accepted to cover fuel, lodging, food and other expenses for the ride. Any additional donations will benefit the Charlotte’s Finest Legacy Foundation, which offers scholarships to students who are interested in a law enforcement career. Organizers hope to raise at least $20,000 this year.
U-Haul has donated a truck to haul luggage and food during the trip; Coach America and Rose Chauffeured Transportation will drive officers back to Charlotte and Charlotte Van and Storage will transport the bicycles home.
Irby’s first year participating was “quite an adventure,” considering that he estimates he’d never biked more than 20 miles at one time. In fact, he didn’t even own a bicycle.
“I borrowed a bike and showed up,” he said. “Off I went. It was tough, it was nothing but hills.”
But well worth it, he says.
“It’s just a great cause and really good camaraderie,” Irby said.
The event has grown steadily each year and now police escorts are provided at various points during the trek and churches, fire stations and more open their doors to the officers, he said. Among the planned stops is Timmy’s restaurant, home of the “famous Timmy dog,” in Victoria, Va. and Paineville, Va. – a fitting description for the town because riding there is “very challenging,” Irby said.
Once officers arrive at the memorial, they’ll listen as the names of officers killed in the line of duty are read—including their own.
“It brings a new meaning to what you’ve just done,” Irby said. “Especially if you’ve got the names of your own that are going to be read.”
Want to help?
To donate money to help cover fuel, lodging and supplies for the riders, visit www.biketodc.com. Once expenses are covered, additional donations will go to Charlotte’s Finest Legacy Foundation, which offers scholarships for local students interested in a law enforcement career. Bottled water and snacks for the riders are also needed.