SOMERVILLE, NJ – Hundreds of New Jersey police officers riding bicycles pedaled down Main Street Monday afternoon on the first leg of a four-day trip to Washington DC where they will honor fellow officers killed in the line of duty.
The four-day Police Unity Tour is commemorating its 20th anniversary May 9-12, with police from around the country converging on the nation’s capital to pay tribute to the slain officers and the families left behind.
The fifth day, May 13th, will be filled by a candlelight vigil and ceremonies.
The Police Unity Tour was organized by Officer Patrick P. Montuore of the Florham Park Police Department in May, 1997.
Since then, the annual event has raised nearly $18 million.
Somerville police officers Vitorio Spadea and Tim Franks were in the pack of riders that snaked their way down Main Street from Mountain Avenue on Monday. The group had left Florham Park and Parsippany early in the morning, heading south down Routes 202/206 and through Bridgewater before arriving in Somerville.
Spadea peeled off the pack to visit briefly with his wife Kimberly and six-month-old daughter Amelia who had come to support his effort. After a few words and a brief kiss, he was on his way. His wife will travel to the nation’s capital to participate in the tribute later this week.
The police passed beneath huge American flags erected by firefighters at Division Street and on East Main Street, riding past the historic Somerset County Courthouse before turning left on to Grove Street, past the county Administration building before connecting with Route 28 for a few miles. The police then turned onto Finderne Avenue, continued riding through Bridgewater into Manville, and on to Weston Canal Road to connect with Davidson Avenue in Franklin, where they will spend the night at area hotels before heading out the next day.
By the end of Day Two, the cyclists will reach Philadelphia; Day 3 destination is Baltimore. They will arrive in Washington on Day 4 and converge at RFK Stadium before riding to the police memorial.
“Riding down Pennsylvania Avenue with the US Capitol in front of you, with 2,000 other bicyclists, police car and motorcycle escorts, everybody stopping, watching and waving, it’s incredible,” Franks said.
The 2,000 riders nationwide will help to heighten awareness of the dangers and hazards faced by law enforcement officers, honor those who have died in the line of duty and raise funds for the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial and Museum.
“It’s all about honoring those whose families are now suffering from the loss of their loved ones,” Spadea said.
Both Spadea and Franks have participated in the Unity Tour in past years.
In keeping with tradition, Spadea and Franks dedicatef their 300-mile trek to fallen police officers, including two from Somerville that were killed in the line of duty 100 years ago.
A memorial erected by Somerville PBA #147 alongside the doorway into police headquarters memorializes Officer Manning T. Crow, shot after confronting three burglars in a butcher shop on South Street in 1899 and Officer Julius Sauer who was shot by a man threatening suicide in 1917. After shooting Sauer, the man killed himself.
Spadea also dedicated his ride to two other fallen officers, each of whom he knew.
Spadea is riding to honor his friend and fallen Watchung police officer Matthew Melchionda, killed in a North Plainfield collision in 2006 when responding to back up undercover officers at a traffic stop, as well as state Trooper Scott Gonzalez, killed in Warren County when responding to a domestic dispute in 1997. Spadea said he knew the trooper when he was growing up.
Finally, Spadea will quietly honor Claude Racine, a Somerville police officer who died four years ago just prior to the Unity Tour in which he had planned to ride.
Spadea is riding Racine’s bike to Washington. His widow gifted the bike to Spadea.
“It’s in honor of him because he rode the bike and he worked for us,” Spadea said. “Riding his bicycle down, for me, I consider that he is riding with me; we’re riding down together.”
Franks is dedicating his ride to the fallen Somerville police officers and Racine.
“It’s great camaraderie riding with cops from other towns and other states,” Franks said. “You hear stories from cops you’re riding with about their partners, some of them were with them when they died on duty, there are a lot of real intense stories and it makes you realize that you owe it to yourself as a cop to remember the guys that didn’t get to go home that night,” he added.