800 cops, supporters ride from N.J. to D.C. on Wednesday
FLORHAM PARK — Members of law enforcement will again take to their bicycles and motorcycles as part of the the Police Unity Tour to honor those who lost their lives during the past year.
About 800 riders from three New Jersey chapters and the World Trade Center in New York, along with their support teams, will leave early Wednesday on the first leg of the tour, which ends at the National Law Enforcement Museum, according to executive director Harry Phillips, who was on the original trip in 1997.
"Once a year they put the names of all the officers who died in the line of duty on the memorial wall. We ride down to honor the people in our profession who have given their lives realizing fully how lucky we all are," Phillips told New Jersey 101.5
A total of 380 names, including two from New Jersey, will be added to the list of fallen officers. The names include Lt. Matthew Tarantino, who died in a car crash on Route 78 as he drove to work last May, and Sgt. Christopher A. Vidro, of the Montclair State University police, who responded to the terror attack on 9/11. He died in 2007 after battling an aggressive form of cancer resulting from his exposure to toxins at Ground Zero.
Summit police Capt. Andrew Bartolotti will lead a contingent of officers from Summit on his first tour.
"It's one of those things I've always wanted to do in my career but schedules never seemed to work out for me. But this year is special so it was no question this was going to be my inaugural run," Bartolotti said. "Unfortunately, we are riding in his honor. We wish he was riding with us but he will be with us throughout the entire event there's no doubt about that. With his name being officially added to the wall that's something our riders and support crew are very proud to be part of."
Tarantino's uncle, who works in law enforcement in New Jersey, and his brother will be riding with the Summit group.
Vidro's widow, Toni Lyn Vidro, along with Montclair State Police Capt. Kieran Barrett, who joined the department with Vidro in 1998, led what Barrett called an "intensive" vetting process to add Vidro's name.
According to Barrett, it took until 2014 to make a case for adding his name to the memorial when it was determined Vidro’s exposure to toxins on 9/11 likely contributed to his multiple myeloma,
New Jersey Chapter 1 will leave from East Hanover, Chapter 2 from South Jersey, Chapter 10 from the Monmouth County Police Academy.
Toms River Patrolman John Mehl is president of Chapter 10 and riding in his third Tour. He is looking forward to meeting up with other groups and riding into Washington as a group, 2,500 strong.
Accompanying each group is what Mehl calls a small support army that arranges for hotels and lines up resources like water and supplies. "My team is amazing and they do a great job," he said.
"I think the support staff works harder than us riding. They have everything set up. Tents, everyone's chairs are set up, they cook. It's just amazing. You finish your ride, you're tired and they hand you water," Voorhees Detective Lance Klein said.
Klein is also looking forward to the final stretch of the ride into Washington.
"I gotta say that's probably the best day out of all of them. Riding into D.C. you see the Capitol building in the background, people line the streets, all the families are waiting for you when you come into the memorial, the kids are holding up their signs," Klein said.
The chapters will start their rides on Wednesday morning and meet in Absecon. They will ride to Rehoboth, Delaware, and then to Annapolis, Maryland, before riding into Washington on Saturday afternoon.