Riding for the fallen

Unity Tour passes through Hudson County

Police from around Hudson County, New Jersey and the East Coast took the Unity Tour to Washington DC.
Police from around Hudson County, New Jersey and the East Coast took the Unity Tour to Washington DC.

Motorcycles and police cars led the contingent of bicyclists through Jersey City on May 9 as part of 2019 Unity Tour, to pay tribute to police officers who have died in the line of duty.

Nearly 200 people on bicycles made their way from New York City’s 9/11 monument on the first leg of a 300-mile trip to Washington, D.C.

This included the 37 member Jersey City Police Cycling Team, who rode in honor of Lt. Chris Robateau, who was in hit by a car while attempting to help a stranded motorist in early 2018.

This also commemorated the fifth anniversary of the death of Det.Melvin Santiago, and the 10th anniversary of Det. Marc Anthony DiNardo.

A life and death battle, won

Family members of these three officers stood and waited for the arrival of the bicycles near the police monument on Montgomery Street.

This year, having just returned to full duty in late February after surviving a two-year battle with breast cancer, Jersey City Police Officer and Marine veteran Gina Sandwith made her first public appearance riding beside her brother, Jersey Police Officer Joseph Sandwith. She rode in honor of Jersey City’s Santiago and Perth Amboy Police Officer Thomas Raji.

Sandwith was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2017. After 18 rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, two pulmonary embolisms, and three reconstructive surgeries, Gina returned to the force in February this year.

Sandwith served in the U.S. Marine Corp doing tours in Afghanistan, Africa and Bahrain before joining the Jersey City Police Force in 2012.

“As a Marine, I have served in some of the most dangerous places on earth where my life was always precarious,” said Sandwith. “But never have I fought a more intense life or death battle than the one I have fought against cancer the past two years. I am so grateful to be strong and healthy enough to ride this year in support of police officers who have fallen in the line of duty.”

The city has lost 40 officers in its history

The purpose of the tour was to raise awareness of the law enforcement officers that have lost their lives in the line of duty. Jersey City has lost 40 officers in its long history.

Police from towns throughout Hudson County and state joined the procession at its kickoff, although more police would join the procession as it made its three-day trip to the nation’s capital. This included officers from Union City, North Bergen, and Secaucus, whose departments also marked the loss of officers in the line of duty in their history.

Jersey City had one of the largest individual department teams to participate in the 4-day bicycle tour and managed to raise more than $70,000 to support the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial and Museum. Last year, the tour raised $2.6 million for a total of $23 million since its inception.

The first Unity Tour took place in 1997, organized by Officer Patrick P. Montuore of the Florham Park Police Department, with the hope of bringing public awareness of police officers who have died in the line of duty and to honor their sacrifice.

What started with 18 riders on a four-day fundraising bicycle ride from Florham Park to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. has grown into nine chapters consisting of over 2,500 members nationwide who make the trip annually.

Although too young to remember the 2009 death of her father, Gwendolyn DiNardo talked about her family history, and how her father, slightly more than a month before his death in July 2009, had taken part in this same bicycle ritual to pay tribute to perished officers at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington.

“Instead of riding to the monument in 2010, my dad’s name was engraved in it,” she said. “My uncle Pauly took the 300-mile trip on May 12, 2010, riding my dad’s bicycle in his honor.”

As the riders continued on with other stops in New Jersey and other states moving south, more riders would join the movement. As many as 2,000 eventually arrived in Washington, with about 45 officers representing the Jersey City Police Department, Union City Police Department, North Bergen Police Department, the Secaucus Police Department, the Hudson County Sheriff’s Department, and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office.

Among the officials watching the bicyclists pass were Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez, Jersey City Public Safety Director Jim Shea, Mayor Steven Fulop, and Hudson County Sheriff Frank Schillari.

Jersey City Police Chief Mike Kelly recalled seeing the names of these officers etched in the stone of the monument in Washington.

“These were friends, brothers, sisters, children, family,” he said. “It was a humbling experience. They have made another journey and now they look and care for us from above.”

For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Al Sullivan can be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.