Today, 30 riders will began a 700-mile bicycle journey that will honor fallen law enforcement officers and firefighters in North Carolina and South Carolina, including an Aiken Public Safety officer.
The Carolina Brotherhood is an annual cycling event made up of firefighters and police officers from the Carolinas.
It began last year with nine Asheville firefighters and 20 others from the Carolinas and Florida riding across North Carolina in honor of fallen Asheville firefighter Jeff Bowen.
This year, the cyclists will be riding in honor of six fallen officers, including Master Cpl. Sandy Rogers of the Aiken Department of Public Safety.
Rogers, a 27-year veteran of Aiken Public Safety, was shot and killed while responding to a resident's concerns about a suspicious vehicle in Eustis Park on Jan. 28, 2012. Her death gained particular attention because she was the second Aiken officer killed in as many months.
The Brotherhood's trek begins today in Rocky Mount, N.C., and will end on Aug. 17 in Boone, N.C. Between those days, the riders will have overnight stops in Elizabethtown, N.C., Darlington, Columbia, Aiken, Honea Path, Hendersonville, N.C., and Marion, N.C.
The ride will average 100 miles per day and will end with a 6,000-foot elevation climb on the last day into Boone, said Jim Squittieri, a firefighter with the City of Charlotte who is participating.
“The route is dictated by where these officers worked,” Squittieri said. “We're doing a giant 'V' into South Carolina.”
The goal of the ride is to raise not only awareness of the fallen officers and their service, but also money for their families, Squittieri said.
Most of the items the riders need for their journey, including meals, lodging arrangements and fuel, is donated, Squittieri said.
“Unfortunately, there will never be a reason not to ride,” he said, adding that the Carolinas have some of the highest rates of first responders killed in the line of duty. “We just want to preserve their memory and their honor. It's to provide emotional support for both the communities and families of those affected.”
The cyclists will roll into Aiken on Tuesday afternoon and will depart on the final leg of their trek Wednesday morning.
According to Ken Gypin, who is a battalion chief with the Columbia fire department and a bomb technician with the police department, the riders will have lunch in Pelion before making their way to Wagener and then Aiken.
“Last year was the inaugural ride,” he said. “When we came pulling into different places, we got a good show of support.”
The Brotherhood has been in contact with Aiken Public Safety about the tour.
“We're honored that they are recognizing one of our officers and that they're riding on her behalf,” said Lt. Karl Odenthal, who noted that Rogers is the only South Carolina officer being honored this year. “We're pretty aware of it but other people across the state aren't necessarily as aware.”
Odenthal knows what the cyclists will be dealing with during their journey. In May, he and hundreds of other riders biked 250 miles for the Police Unity Tour to honor fallen officers from around the country. He rode in Rogers' honor.
“I'm proud to welcome them in. I appreciate what they're doing,” he said.
In addition to the bike ride, the Carolina Brotherhood has other fundraisers throughout the year, and it also sells T-shirts bearing the name of the officers they are riding in honor of. The shirts, which are navy blue and range in sizes from small to XXXL, are $20. They can be purchased at www.carolinabrotherhood.com and clicking on the “T-Shirts” tab. The shirts will be shipped on Aug. 20 .
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.
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