YORK COUNTY — Several hundred motorcycles roared through York County on Saturday headed for the same destination with the same goal: Raise as much money as possible for families of law enforcement officers hurt or killed on duty.
It was the third annual Thin Blue Line Ride in which bikers from around the region and beyond gathered in Rock Hill.
The ride, put on by The Forever Blue Foundation and The April Five Organization, took bikers on an hour-long drive to Matthews, N.C., where they celebrated with a party.
Organizer John Rainier, a Rock Hill police officer, launched the ride to help as many families as possible.
His ambitions aren't small: "Billions (of dollars), if we can," he said.
By 10:15 a.m. more than 350 bikes had pulled into Cox Harley-Davidson dealership.
A banner displayed a photo of Fred Thornton, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer who died in February from a flash-bang grenade explosion. The banner was there for all riders to sign before Rainier gave it Thornton's family. Thornton was a married and a father of four.
As of April 2, 53 officers have died on duty in the United States, according to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund. That is six more than at this time in 2010.
Rainier knows how their loved ones feel.
His best friend Jeff Shelton, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer was shot and killed in 2007 while responding to a call at an East Charlotte apartment complex. Shelton's partner Sean Clark was also killed that night.
Soon after, Rainier launched The Forever Blue Foundation in honor of these men and to support families of fallen officers. The nonprofit raises money during the year, but the Thin Blue Line Ride is its signature gathering.
"It's a way to keep Sean and Jeff's memory alive," said Jeff Shelton's wife Jennifer.
Financial help can be critical for families reeling from the loss of an officer.
"You not only lose income," Shelton said. "You can lose health benefits."
Family members sometimes have to quit jobs to deal with court cases related to the death, she said.
"It just completely changes your life," she said.
After raising roughly $20,000 each of the first two rides, Rainier hoped enough people and sponsors showed up Saturday to top that to help families nationwide.
With word spreading, they might have.
Riders came from as far away as New York, Michigan, Ohio and Florida, Rainier said.
Ed Felix, an instructor at South Carolina's police academy, got an email about the ride on Friday evening and drove from Lexington.
"People come from all walks of life to enjoy the fellowship," Felix said. "I said let's go."
Lisa Hill, who drove from Waxhaw, N.C., was encouraged by the mass of riders.
"It's amazing," she said. "It's great to see everyone come together for this cause."
Want to know more?
To learn more about the annual motorcycle ride, visit ridetheline.org.
The Forever Blue Foundation
The Forever Blue Foundation raises money to help families of law enforcement officers killed on duty.
For information: www.foreverbluefoundation.org
The April Five Organization
The April Five Organization was founded in 2008 to assist sworn officers of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department as they recover from injuries sustained in the line of duty. It was inspired by Charlotte officer Kayvan Hazrati, who was shot in the head April 5, 2006. He recuperated from the shooting.
For more information, visit www.aprilfive.org
Shawn Cetrone 803-329-4072