Local officers go on 300-mile bike trek to honor their fallen

The memory of fallen Burbank police officer Matthew Pavelka will always stay with Sgt. Henry Garay.

Garay was just starting with the Burbank Police Department when Pavelka was shot and killed in November 2003. Pavelka had been on the force for 10 months when he and his partner, officer Gregory Campbell, made a routine traffic stop that turned deadly when the occupants of the car began firing on the officers.

Campbell was wounded in the gunfire exchange, while the 26-year-old Pavelka died.

“His death really impacted me. It made me realize what the job can ultimately mean,” Garay said. “You don’t see that as a young officer… I got to see that firsthand, unfortunately.”

One way Garay keeps Pavelka’s memory alive is by taking part in the annual Police Unity Tour. Held since 1997, the event is a nearly 300-mile bike ride from New Jersey to Washington, D.C., undertaken by police officers across the country in honor of those who have died in the line of duty.

Part fundraiser, the ride also collects money for the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial and Museum in Washington D.C. This year, more than $2 million was raised.

Garay is one of three officers from the Burbank Police Department who took part in the ride this year. A retired officer also joined them on the three-day trek.

“If you were to talk to everybody, I’m probably the last person that would ever be on a bike ride,” Garay said.

This is his fifth year participating.

Next year will be the 15th anniversary of Pavelka’s death, and Garay said he hopes to get more officers to participate in the 2018 event.

Also participating in the unity tour were 12 officers from the Glendale Police Department, who rode an extended tour as they started at the World Trade Center in New York on their way to Washington D.C.

This year’s trek carried a special significance for the Glendale officers because it was the 20th anniversary of officer Charles Lazzaretto’s death.

In 1997, the 30-year-old Glendale officer was chasing down a man suspected of trying to kill his girlfriend. Lazzaretto followed the man into a Chatsworth warehouse, where a shootout ensued and Lazzaretto never came out alive.

Since his death, several members of his family have participated in the ride. This year, his brother, Dominic, and his son, Andrew, rode the 300 miles.

Like his father, Andrew Lazzaretto is an officer with the Glendale Police Department — and he also wears the same badge number as his father.

Officer Sue Shine has been participating in the unity tour since 2005 and has ridden with many members of Lazzaretto family — including his father and another son.

“[I feel] a sense of complete satisfaction for the family, that each of the members have gone on this pilgrimage,” she said. “That our department has fully supported this family as much as we can … It made me feel very proud to be a member of the Glendale Police Department.”

Twitter: @Andy_Truc