Cops Cycling for Survivors participants are carrying the memory of fallen police officers – literally.
Several cyclists had pictures of fallen officers taped to their backs when they arrived in Fort Wayne on Wednesday.
The foundation is a 1,000-mile annual bike ride through Indiana that raises funds and awareness for the sacrifices of law enforcement families. Along the way, the cyclist crew stops at memorials and cemeteries to honor fallen officers, like Eryk Heck.
Heck, 27, an Allen County sheriff's deputy, died in 1997 after being shot while investigating a burglary on the city's northwest side.
His mother, Gerri Matheny, was among the crowd who greeted the cyclists at the Law Enforcement/Firefighters Memorial on Wells Street.
“This is beautiful; it's such a tribute to these guys,” Matheny said. “It's all we can do for them.”
Each of the cyclists read an officer's ODMP, or Officer Down Memorial Page. Most people in the crowd had lost a police officer in their family.
“The motivation is to perpetuate the mission statement: never forgotten,” said Master Trooper Kevin Getz, a detective with the Indiana State Police who is one of the cyclists. “We will never forget the survivors and the officers who made the ultimate sacrifice for the state.”
Susan Matteson-Thomas, who coordinates the group's Fort Wayne stop, lost her husband, Bradley Matteson, 43, in 2000. He was killed while returning from a call when a semi ran a red light and crashed into his police cruiser.
Matteson-Thomas has been involved in Cops Cycling for Survivors for 17 years and has seen it grow.
“I used to cook all of the lunch, but at that time it was a much smaller group,” she said. “So it has certainly evolved, and this is just awesome.”
Cops Cycling for Survivors is in its 18th year, and several cyclists have been participating since the beginning.
John Heath, a retired Allen County officer who served 21 years, is in his 10th year.
“I just want to do something for the survivors,” Heath said. “It brings all of us cyclers great joy when we're able to comfort them a little bit. Every day brings something good.”
Heath rides with his daughter, Holly Heath, along with 24 others. Most are law enforcement officers, but survivors, family members and friends are welcome to cycle.
The cycling cops began their journey Monday in Indianapolis and will finish the trek there July 20. Heath said the group averages 80 miles a day, starting at 7 a.m. each day.
They're escorted by four motorcycles and two state vehicles. As in Fort Wayne, local police often provide escorts through their cities.
Patrolman James Arnold was on bike patrol in the downtown area.
“I'm here as a representative of the Fort Wayne Police Department, but we're also here to honor friends and officers who have given their lives,” Arnold said.
At every memorial and cemetery stop, the cyclists plant a small flag in the ground to leave their mark.
This year's honored officers include Fort Wayne Police Officer David Tinsley, Sgt. Edward Ronald Bollman of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and Boone County Sheriff's Deputy Jacob Matthew Pickett.
Tinsley, 50, chased and helped track down a burglary suspect on Fort Wayne's south side but collapsed on the way back to his car in September. He died at a hospital.
Bollman, 44, drowned while trying to rescue a friend in a pond at Camp Kikthawenund in Madison County in February 2018. The two were ice fishing when the friend suffered a heart attack and fell in the water.
Pickett, 34, died after being shot while trying to apprehend a wanted subject in Lebanon in March 2018. The man had fled from Lebanon police officers who had gone to his home to serve a warrant on a different person.
Getz also recounted last year in Vermillion County when they found a surviving family member of an officer killed in the late 1800s.
“I guarantee you, the officer had since been forgotten except for maybe a few here and there,” Getz said. “We were able to meet with the survivor and make that oath that we will never forget.”