An Aiken Public Safety officer will join hundreds of bicyclists riding in the 2013 Police Unity Tour, which honors law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. The tour will end at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., where Master Cpl. Sandy Rogers' name will be etched into a memorial wall.
Lt. Karl Odenthal will bike 250 miles over three days from Portsmouth, Va., to the nation's capitol beginning May 9. Before the trip, though, he needs to raise $2,000 to cover the entry fee. As of Wednesday night, he's raised $1,050.
To take part in the tour, a cyclist must have some tie to an officer killed in the line of duty. Odenthal said he was originally turned down when he registered in November for the tour.
“My first impression was, all I have to do is sign up and I'm in,” he said. “Evidently, they only allow a certain number of riders in.”
Tour officials allowed Odenthal on the waiting list, and he sent them a “passionate” email.
“I told them Sandy's story, and that I was her immediate supervisor, that I was there and how much it would mean to me to ride on her behalf,” he said.
Rogers was gunned down on Jan. 28, 2012, while responding to a call about a suspicious vehicle in Eustis Park. She was the second Aiken Public Safety officer killed in the line of duty in as many months. Master Public Safety Officer Scotty Richardson was shot on Dec. 20, 2011, and died the next day. His name was placed on the memorial wall following last year's tour.
Tour officials met this weekend and added Odenthal to the tour. He found out Sunday night, which he said was significant because Monday was the anniversary of Rogers' death, and now he'll be riding in her honor.
According to the event's website, the inaugural tour was held in May 1997 with 18 riders. About 1,600 rode in last year's tour.
Participants must meet stringent health criteria and be able to maintain a certain pace for the trip.
“If one of the event organizers taps you on the shoulder and says, 'Hey, you're not cutting it,' they pull you out,” Odenthal said. “There's a pace for this thing, and they can't wait on two riders.”
Odenthal said he'll be biking to and from work and taking long rides on weekends to prepare for the 250-mile trek.
Following the tour, there will be a ceremony at the wall in Washington, D.C. Odenthal said members of Rogers' family will be there, as well as Aiken Public Safety's Honor Guard and officers who were working on Rogers' shift when she died.
Odenthal has set up a webpage for his fundraising campaign: www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/KarlOdenthal/police-unity-tour-viii-2013. On the webpage is a photo of him and Rogers.
“Sandy was one of the first officers I met,” Odenthal said of when he came to Aiken Public Safety in October 1990. “I'd gone on to other assignments in the department and she stayed on the shift. We always maintained contact. For the last eight years, I'd been on shift with her. We started together and ended up coming back together.”
Odenthal said one thing he'll remember about Rogers is her instincts. He recalled a disabled car an officer had seen on the side of the road.
“No big deal, no one was in it,” he said, adding that Rogers later said she wanted to check on the vehicle.
“Instincts, something told her to go check on it,” he said. “She goes by there and there's somebody breaking into the car – the guy's inside the car as she's checking on it. She just had a knack for it, and it was years of experience.”
It's their friendship that Odenthal said he'll miss the most.
“The last thing I remember Sandy doing was laughing,” he said. “She was laughing like crazy. We said something funny during roll call and she couldn't even sit in her chair straight, she was just straight back laughing.”
In a photo submitted to the Aiken Standard, Odenthal is standing next to his bicycle in front of a Public Safety patrol car and holding a picture of Rogers. However, he is not visible from the shoulders up.
“The reason I had that picture taken like that is because I want it to be about Sandy,” he said. “This isn't about me, it's about Sandy Rogers. I'm riding in her honor.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime beat for the Aiken Standard. He is a graduate of Clemson University and hails from Williston.