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'It's to show respect for all our brothers and sisters who have gone before us': Nonprofit supports fallen officers' families with fundraising ride

More than 400 motorcyclists convened Saturday morning at Original Roadhouse Grill on Rosedale Highway for the 15th annual motorcycle ride organized by the Kern County 999 Foundation to raise money for the families of fallen peace officers.

Californians — from San Diego to Northern California — were set to raise about $40,000 through ride registration and various auctions, said Tim Halbwachs, the foundation's secretary. Some riders arrived from Idaho and Texas, he added.

Witnessing the sizable crowd allows law enforcement to experience the community’s support, said Officer Jeff Mesa, a participant in the ride for 10 years. Furthermore, the day allows him to memorialize those who have been lost in the line of duty, he said.

“It's to show respect for all of our brothers and sisters who have gone before us,” Mesa said.

The Sikh Riders of America provided a complimentary breakfast, motivated to honor the fallen through tenets of Sikhism, said Navraj Rai, a director with the Sikh Riders. These beliefs include Langhar, or providing free food regardless of identity, and Seva, selfless service, he added.

“It goes hand in hand with our values as a religion, but our values as a culture as well,” Rai said.

Bakersfield Police Department Chief Greg Terry, Sheriff Donny Youngblood and Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer spoke about remembering fallen officers at the riders' first stop: the Liberty Bell on Truxtun Avenue.

The officials recognized KCSO Deputy Phillip Campas, California Highway Patrol Officer Scott Merritt and KCSO Deputy Gabriel Gonzales. Afterward, participants traveled throughout Bakersfield before returning to Roadhouse Grill.

Kailand Lilburn, a participant in the ride, got emotional as he watched law enforcement leaders detail the ultimate sacrifice of fallen officers and listened to the music.

“Anything I can do to help support … we’re going to do that,” Lilburn said.

Through efforts by nonprofits, Christina Campas, the wife of fallen Deputy Phillip Campas, received a sizable check from the 999 Foundation, Youngblood said.

"They have done some amazing things," Youngblood said, in efforts not to forget the families.

Additionally, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, secured a donation from Tunnels to Towers Foundation, another nonprofit, which helped to pay off Campas’ mortgage, Youngblood said.

Organizations that support law enforcement help the families understand that the officer's sacrifice is never forgotten, the sheriff said. Youngblood also said these charitable groups share a positive image of law enforcement.

Billy Owens, chief financial officer for the Kern County 999 Foundation, said the nonprofit first formed after raising about $17,000 for Kern County Deputy Sheriff Joe Hudnall’s family. The officer was struck on Highway 178 by a vehicle driven by Los Angeles attorney Daniel Patrick Willsey, who was under the influence of methamphetamine, in 2006, according to reporting by The Californian.

Families of the fallen need help with bills after losing a steady stream of income, Owens said.

“That's what drives us,” Owens said.

You can reach Ishani Desai at 661-395-7417. You can also follow her at @idesai98 on Twitter. 

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