Editor’s note: Through Saturday, May 21, cyclists from Orange County are riding between Sacramento and Westminster, Ca., in the Code 3 for a Cause memorial ride to raise funds and commemorate fallen and injured law enforcement officers. This is the 10th annual ride, organized by the Westminster Police Department’s Cmdr. Kevin MacCormick and Sgt. Bill Drinnin. Behind the Badge is along for the ride and will file dispatches from the road.
Dan Schoonmaker, a former Deputy Chief for Westminster Police Department, was brought to tears remembering his friend and colleague Tom Richard, who committed suicide in 2013.
Bert Mekpongsatorn said the memory of his friend and former LAPD Officer Ricardo Lizarraga, shot and killed during a domestic disturbance in Leimert Park in 2013, spurs him on.
Mary, the widow of Howard Dallies, a Garden Grove Patrol Officer gunned down during a traffic stop, still remembers learning about the shooting of her husband from a watch commander and rushing to the hospital from her job as a police dispatcher.
All three shared stories and tears Friday night during the final evening of the 10th annual Code 3 for a Cause memorial bike ride, a benefit that honors and commemorates fallen officers and their families.
Every year, the Code 3 ride begins with a visit to the California Peace Officers’ Memorial, dedicated to officers who die in service.
On the final night of the ride, Westminster Police Officers and first-time riders and volunteers at the four-day event between Sacramento and Westminster gather to share a toast and tell their stories.
“Each person has their own reason for riding,” Westminster Commander Kevin MacCormick said. “After three days riding together a lot of us have gotten close. This is our last night together and it’s an opportunity to share.”
Schoonmaker told the story of Richard, a rookie cop in 1988 who was responding to a Code 3 backup request when he was involved in a horrific Christmas Day accident that killed two young Goldenwest College women students.
After that, Richard became a strong advocate for helping fellow police deal with job-related trauma and earned a doctorate in psychology, all while trying to reconcile with his own ghosts.
In 2013, a year after he retired, in a cemetery near one of the victims, Richard fired a single shot into his head. His body was found the next day with his badge clutched in his left hand.
“I wish he was here today,” Schoonmaker said. “I wish everyone on that memorial was here today.”
Westminster Sgt. Phuong Pham spoke for many in the ride saying, “I ride for the fallen and the families who go through the pain every day. Those are the people I ride for.”
While Pham said the pain he endures on the ride goes away at the end of the day, for those who survive loss, it is constant.
Todd Carpenter is a retired Orange County Sheriff and veteran of the ride. He rides in memory of Dallies, and met Mary after her husband’s death.
Coincidentally, Carpenter was Dallies’ Field Training Officer for a short time when the two worked for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. After Dallies’ death, Carpenter helped Mary raise her two sons and the two later married and had four more children.
After 28 years, Mary still mourns for her late husband. However, she said, “My heart is full because of people like you, because you’re doing the job.”
“And although I don’t know all the names on the memorial, they’re here,” she concluded, pointing to her heart. “And you do it for them.”
Mekpongsatorn, a certified nurse anesthetist who had wanted to be a cop, said Lizarraga was a close friend and workout partner.
Whenever he is struggling on a ride, Mekpongsator said, “I say, ‘Lizzie, help me on these climbs.’”
MacCormick spoke about the toll police work takes on families.
“Last year, 623 cops were killed in the line of duty,” he said, stopping to take a moment to rein in the emotion. “One hundred and seventy-seven took their own lives, because of what this profession does to us.”
The ride, MacCormick said, helps get out the message of the positive things police do, their willingness to face danger to help and to serve. And he was especially thankful for the volunteers and non-law enforcement people who participated.
“Thank you for having the courage to stand up and support us,” he said.
For Team No. 3’s third leg, cool is the rule
Under daylong coastal clouds and occasional drizzle, the third of three groups participating in the Code 3 ride logged 46 miles from Gaviota State Park to Carpinteria. The team consists of several veterans of the ride and three newcomers.
The ride, split between rolling hills along Highway 101 where the cyclists had to share the road with big rigs rumbling by, and more tranquil neighborhoods, still tested the group.
“It was tough, it really tested your will,” said Pham, who trained five weeks for the ride. “This is the third day in a row.”
For the four-day ride, the team has been logging about 50 miles daily. And though the terrain was not nearly so tough as a day before, when the riders took on the Big Sur Coast, or the first day when temperatures hit the 90s in the San Joaquin Valley, the cumulation of miles and days took its toll.
Clearly the toughest part was along the state highway, where cars zoomed by, sometimes seeming perilously close.
“Every year I think, how fast can I get off this road,” said Schoonmaker.
Rev. John LaBelle, a volunteer chaplain at Westminster PD and pastor at Calvary Chapel WestGrove, is riding for the first time. He was a volunteer last year and enjoyed the experience enough to take on riding this year. LaBelle was feeling the effects as he rolled into Carpinteria shortly before 1 p.m.
“Where’s my room? My back is killing me,” he said upon his arrival at the team hotel.
A former Marine who took a spill over a guardrail on the first day, LaBelle likes to say, “I’m made of steel.”
But the ride has tested his mettle, if not metal.
Pham, who is nearing retirement with Westminster, said the ride has long been on his bucket list.
“For me, I always wanted to do it but never had the guts,” he said.
This year, he recruited his friend John Kim to help him train and accompany on the ride. Since the start, the duo have set the pace in their group.
When the morning began, Pham was worried about the two other teams, which would be following much of the same course, although starting far behind Team No. 3.
“I was told if we slow down the other teams will catch us,” he said.
“Don’t worry. One year we had a slow rider who stopped every 15 miles and they didn’t catch us,” said Roland Perez.
Sure enough, Pham and Kim were checked into their room while Team No. 2 was still in Goleta eating lunch and Team No. 1 was in Gaviota with 20 miles to go.
Read more about the 2022 Memorial Ride: