A group of cyclists, bound by the death of fallen comrades, will ride more than 450 miles May 20-24 as both a show of support and a visual testament to the sacrifices of officers and first responders killed in the line of duty.
The 2019 Gulf Coast Brotherhood Ride honors fallen first responders, including Russell Achord, deputy chief of the West Feliciana Fire Department and a former law enforcement officer, and Chris Lawton, Zachary police reserve officer and deputy fire chief.
Sgt. Craig Russell, of the Baton Rouge Police Department, said he and other officers have participated in similar rides and have gathered enough support to start a local effort that will see its inaugural year as the Gulf Coast Brotherhood Ride.
Russell said Brotherhood Rides have their roots in Florida and go back several years. The Florida group went to Charleston, South Carolina, in memory of the Charleston Nine. Nine firefighters died in a blaze at the Charleston Sofa Super Store in June 2007. It was the deadliest firefighter disaster in the United State since the 9/11 attacks.
Louisiana officers and firefighters started participating in regional and national memorial ride events. A Brotherhood Ride chapter was started in Texas and saw some Louisiana participation. A local group rode from Dallas to Baton Rouge in 2017 to honor the officers in Dallas and to honor Baton Rouge police and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office members.
“In 2018, we rode with the Texas Brotherhood Ride, and we went from Westwego to San Antonio, and we stopped here to honor Deputy Shawn Anderson, so a group of us got together and we started our own ride that was not affiliated with any other ride and we called it the Gulf Coast Brotherhood Ride,” Russell said.
Other 2019 Gulf Coast Brotherhood Ride honorees include Agent Cade Immanuel Washington, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries; Officer Michael Paul Middlebrook, Lafayette Police Department; Trooper Steven Vincent, Louisiana State Police; Officer Natasha Hunter, New Orleans Police Department; Officer Marcus McNeil, New Orleans Police Department; Deputy David Michel Jr., Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office; Agent Josie Wells, U.S. Marshals Service (Mississippi); Officer Justin Bills, Mobile (Alabama) Police Department; Sgt. Charles Mitchum, Loxley (Alabama) Police Department; and Officer Michael Stockwell, Orange Beach (Alabama) Police Department.
The newly formed riders group will ride in honor of a fallen first responders a year or so after their death. “We are just wanting to remind the families, the departments and co-workers that while they have not forgotten the sacrifice that was made, others outside their immediate area have also not forgotten the sacrifices,” Russell said.
The Gulf Coast riders will start May 20 on the 450-mile ride. The full-time riders will ride the entire way. On day two, they will pick up 28 civilian riders, who will go 75 miles with the group as they head into Zachary.
Zachary Police Chief David McDavid said he will join the caravan near Groom Road in Baker and ride with the group into the Hug Your People Park. A ceremony will be held about 4 p.m. May 21 at the park to honor the sacrifice of Lawton and Achord.
Achord led a life dedicated to public safety. He started as a volunteer firefighter and paramedic, then law enforcement officer and finally deputy fire chief for West Feliciana Fire District No. 1. He was killed in January 2018 at the scene of a crash on U.S. 61 after winter weather created dangerous driving conditions.
"Russell was no stranger to danger and tragedy," State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said during the funeral service for Achord. "We honor a person who never complained … just simply went about the business every day of protecting others, to his own loss. … He was a hero, he was a giver, and he was a first responder."
McDavid will ride part of the route for a man he knew well and who served two Zachary public service agencies. Lawton, a Zachary firefighter and reserve police officer, was killed in March 2018 after he was run over by a man he was trying to arrest, becoming the Zachary Police Department’s first officer killed in the line of duty.
"To read off his name was very emotional," McDavid said after a fallen officer roll call ceremony in Baton Rouge. "The sacrifice, service, bravery, we don't want anyone to forget it. ... We want his name to carry on forever."
The Zachary police and fire departments will extend hospitality to the riders, first with dinner after the memorial ceremonial and with a send-off breakfast from Zachary High the next morning.
“This is truly a team effort,” Russell said. “We’ve got agencies providing support trailers, including the local (East Baton Rouge) sheriff’s office and participation from police, fire and EMS departments. This has turned into a tremendous team effort to make sure that these families know the communities haven’t forgotten, not just their community, but communities across south Louisiana.”