LULING — Darren Gros, Clint Patterson and Jody Fahrig will never forget the date: Aug. 16, 2012.
That’s the day the three St. Charles Parish sheriff’s detectives heard — and then responded to — reports that St. John the Baptist Parish deputies Brandon Nielsen and Jeremy Triche had been shot and killed in an ambush at a LaPlace mobile home park.
Two other deputies, Jason Triche and Scott Boyington, were severely wounded in the attack.
Six suspects later were arrested and three remain in custody awaiting trial.
And virtually every law enforcement officer was affected, one way or another.
Gros had known Nielsen when the two served together in Jefferson Parish. Jeremy Triche had attended training with the three. Their paths crossed sometimes in the close-knit law enforcement community of the River Parishes, and their loss is deeply felt.
Nielsen, a big, burly, man with an even bigger personality, was a “Motor Man,” a motorcycle cop who worked many a traffic detail and frequently escorted weddings, funerals and, on one occasion, the president of the United States. He left a wife and five children.
“He was a character, I tell you,” Gros said.
Triche, a younger officer assigned to the K-9 Division, lived his entire life in LaPlace, where he was a high school athlete. He was married and had a 2-year-old son at the time of his death.
“It really hits home,” Patterson said.
To honor them, Gros, Patterson and Fahrig spent the weekend riding bicycles more than 250 miles across the state of Virginia with the Police Unity Tour, one of the events scheduled as part of National Police Week in Washington, D.C.
The Tour, which seeks to raise awareness as well as funds for the National Law Enforcement Memorial, is a three-day ride from points in New Jersey and Virginia to the nation’s capital to honor law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty and raise funds to maintain the memorial and build a museum.
Each of the more than 1,500 participants must raise at least $2,000 in donations. Each rider selects a fallen officer to represent and wears a bracelet with the officer’s name and “End of Watch” date on it.
On Sunday, the Tour arrived at the memorial, lined with thousands of spectators, officers of the law and families of the fallen.
Gros and Patterson rode for Nielsen and Triche; Fahrig rode for Nielsen and Jefferson Parish Deputy Josh Norris, who was killed in 2007.
On Monday, the participants were to present their bracelets to the fallen officers’ families and escort them to a candlelight vigil at the memorial, at which the names of the officers killed in the line of duty in 2012 were to be read.
This year, the names of Nielsen and Triche will be added to the memorial wall.
“Basically, the motto for the Unity Tour is, ‘We ride for those who died,’ ” said Gros, who will ride for the first time. “It’s a way to honor them.”
None of them are avid cyclists, but the three have regularly participated in the ride as traffic escorts and support personnel.
Several members of the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office accompanied them this year. The St. John the Baptist Sheriff’s Office also sent several members to serve as escorts. Groups from St. Tammany and Lafourche parishes also participated.
“Actually, the tour motivated me to get into it, because of the honor it was,” said Patterson, who cycled for the first time. “To witness the men and women who were riding their bikes that far and endure mountains and weather, and get there and meet up with the families of the person they rode for, who you never met in your life.
“We were support vehicles last year. I followed behind the motorcycle trail, in case motorcycles had problems or whatever. It’s just so incredible. It’s like Mardi Gras up there.”
The deputies said townsfolk turn out by the thousands to welcome the tour as it passes through, many holding signs and waving flags to show their support. And the fallen officers’ families wait for them at the memorial.
“It’s overwhelming,” Patterson said. “Last year, there were over 1,500 riders. When they got to the circle, they were smiling. But once they got in there, it was like somebody turned the faucets on. It’s overwhelming.”
“It’ll eat you alive,” Gros said. “It’s going to be a lot different this year, especially knowing what I know about Brandon, the kind of person he was. We all knew him. It was one thing to stand at the memorial last year and watch it. But to do this for these guys and ride into it, I’m probably going to cry like a little schoolgirl.”
Daniell Nielsen, the widow of Brandon Nielsen, is attending with her four children and Brandon’s daughter from Ohio.
“It means a lot because you have to consider that they don’t just go and show up and take a bike ride,” Nielsen said. “They train for months and months. And it’s not just a 10-mile bike ride, either. It’s three days.
“To think that in the face of such evil, there are truly good and inspiring people. That’s what I want Brandon’s name to be associated with — something positive and inspiring.”
Donations may be made to the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office team at http://tinyurl.com/btetsvh.