Burbank police riders honor fallen officers

When Kathleen Jackson felt like she couldn't pedal her bicycle any longer, she grabbed for a picture of fallen Burbank Police Officer Matthew Pavelka hanging around her neck for inspiration.

Pavelka's aunt was one of roughly 1,600 people — including 19 Burbank police officers — who rode this month in the Police Unity Tour, a 240-mile, three-day bike ride from East Hanover, New Jersey to Washington D.C. to commemorate officers who have died in the line of duty.

Her nephew was fatally shot 10 years ago during a routine stop outside the Ramada Inn in Burbank. He was 26.

"I'd say 'C'mon, Matthew, you've got to help me through this,'" Jackson said.

She thought of the last time she saw him, on their annual water-skiing trip to Colorado in 2003, and when he gave Jackson his black Labrador, Harley, on Mother's Day that same year.

"His spirit got me through it," she said.

Through her participation, Jackson collected $10,000 for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Police Officer Joel Rodriguez, who also rode this year, was hired on at the Burbank Police Department the day Pavelka died. His first day on the job was the day of Pavelka's funeral.

"It was a reality check, but that's what we sign up to do," Rodriguez said.

During the ride, Pavelka's memory, and those of two other fallen officers in his Sheriff's Academy class, kept Rodriguez going.

"When you're riding some of these hills in the wind and you want to give up, you think back to the reason why you're doing it —and that gets you through it," he said.

Burbank Police Sgt. Darin Ryburn, a first-time rider, said he plans to participate in the tour every year.

"Us cops have to be hardened, but I'm telling you, when you hear stories of how survivors have overcome, how they're fighting to maintain composure when they've lost their loved one — they've lost their son or husband or brother or wife or daughter in line of duty — it's just amazing," he said.

Pavelka was the fifth Burbank officer killed on the job in the department's history, but he was the first in 83 years, Ryburn said.

David A. Garcia, the man convicted of killing Pavelka, was sentenced last summer to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Last year, 120 law enforcement deaths were reported around the nation, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

"They were doing their job like I do my job everyday," said Kristiana Sanchez, a first-time rider who's been on the Burbank force just shy of six years.


Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.


Copyright © 2019, Burbank Leader
EDITION: California | U.S. & World