SOMERS POINT — The ride to the nation’s capital is a 250-mile trek to honor officers killed in the line of duty and their families, and Law Enforcement United, Team New Jersey will begin their trip Thursday.
The team is made up of 13 riders who are law enforcement officers in Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May counties. This year the group has raised $18,500 to provide support to the Officer Down Memorial Page and Concerns of Police Survivors, a group that supports the families of officers killed in the line of duty, said Egg Harbor Township Patrolman David Heritage.
Heritage is a co-team leader with fellow Egg Harbor Township Patrolman Paul Weldon.
The 2014 national fundraising goal for Law Enforcement United is $500,000, according to its website.
Sunday evening, the team held a fundraiser at Charlie’s Bar in Somers Point, where about 150 people gathered to show support.
“We want to continue to honor the memories of those fallen officers and to remember the survivors,” said Heritage, 43.
Now in its fourth year, Law Enforcement United Team New Jersey includes law-enforcement officers, surviving spouses and civilians, raises awareness of officers who have died in the line of duty.
Lower Township Police Patrolman Eric S. Coombs, 42, is bicycling to Washington, D.C., to the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Friday with Law Enforcement United in honor of his cousin, Lower Township Police Officer David C. Douglass, who was shot and killed in the line of duty, on Feb. 18, 1994.
Douglass was shot in the neck, but managed to fire one shot at his assailant before he collapsed to the ground that night, just steps away from his patrol car.
The 34-year-old father of three tapped on his radio in an attempt to let fellow officers know he was in trouble, authorities said after his death.
Douglass was the first police officer killed since the department was founded in 1955.
As the 20-year anniversary approached in February, Coombs said, he reached out to Douglass’ son, David Jr., to discuss placing a dedication stone at the corner where his father was killed. Coombs said it was planned to be a surprise for Douglass’ widow, Debi, who regularly visits the site to leave flowers in her husband’s memory.
“I thought something should be done at the scene and organized a donation drive at the Lower Township Police Department and purchased a stone to place at the scene,” Coombs said.
For Coombs, who is a rookie to the ride this year, it is an emotional reminder of the start of his law-enforcement career 10 years ago at the Lower Township Police Department.
“He (Douglass) gave me my first application for the civil-service test, and I didn’t really want to be a cop. Then when he was killed and I walked out of the church and saw hundreds of proud police officers lined up in formation, it was at that point I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Coombs said.
Next year, the team plans to honor the 10th anniversary of Atlantic City Police Officer Thomas J. McMeekin Jr. McMeekin was hit by a bus March 3, 2005, as he directed traffic around an accident scene. He died the next day.
Heritage said he hopes to launch a New Jersey chapter for Law Enforcement United, and next year, the ride to Washington, D.C. will start in Atlantic City.
“It’s not just for the law-enforcement community, but next year will also be to let his wife and daughter know that his ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten,” Heritage said.
Planning has begun for next year’s ride. The newest chapter for Law Enforcement United is looking for riders from the law enforcement community in any department.
The group is accepting donations to Team New Jersey at www.lawenforcementunited.org or by mail to Law Enforcement United, P.O. Box 2126, Chesapeake, VA 23327-2126.
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