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Police officer's death brings Unity Tour home to West Michigan cyclists

Becky Vargo • May 19, 2017 at 3:00 PM

The second day into the 300-mile Police Unity Tour last week, Ottawa County cyclists learned about the death of a neighboring police officer, Jonathan Ginka.

The 34-year-old Norton Shores police officer died in a single-car crash on May 10. The crash is still under investigation.

A post from the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department Unity Tour Facebook page noted: “Day Two we start riding thinking and praying for our brothers and sisters from Norton Shores Police Department. Today Sir we ride for you! Godspeed, rest easy now and we will take the watch from here.”

“It really brings it home,” said the sheriff’s office’s Capt. Mark Bennett, who completed the ride along with his son, Deputy Brad Bennett, and seven other local cyclists. “Those kind of tragedies remind us that it doesn’t always happen somewhere else.”

Sgt. Meri-Beth Brouwer said all of the West Michigan team members wrote Ginka’s name on their arms, legs or somewhere on their gear.

The nine Ottawa County riders trained all winter and would meet for 50-mile rides on local bike paths earlier this spring to get ready for the event. With their support crew, they also conducted fundraisers to pay their expenses and make donations to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and Museum, one of the purposes of the ride from New Jersey to Washington, D.C.

The primary goal of the Police Unity Tour is to raise awareness of law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.

The Ottawa County contingent rode in honor of four who died in the line of duty: Officer William Glerum, Reserve Deputy Arlyn Gort, Officer Scott Flahive and Officer Trevor Slot.

Detective Ann Koster, a Spring Lake resident participating in the tour for the first time, said the riders were also able to choose another officer to honor in the ride. Koster rode for Perrin Love, who was a police officer in Charleston, South Carolina, when he died May 21, 1999. Love was originally from Ferrysburg, she noted.

One of the fallen officers from Michigan was a K-9 officer from Wayne State University, Bennett said. Because of that, there were a large number of K-9 officers lining different areas of the route in support of the riders.

Koster said she got chills seeing that kind of support along the way, as well as riding with such a big group of people into the memorial after four days of cycling.

There were about 2,700 riders at the end, said Detective Rick Sykes, a Fruitport resident.

Bennett said schools would let children out to support the riders when they went by. Businesses did the same thing.

First-time rider Deputy Kristina Workman, a Ferrysburg resident, said she loved getting “high fives” from the children at those points in the ride.

The third day out, the weather turned cool, rainy and windy.

“You have the water splatting at you from the rider in front,” Workman said.

“You just sucked it up and kept going,” Brouwer said. “You start chanting their names in your head and keep going.”

The ride was completed Saturday with a grand entrance to the National Police Memorial in Washington. The local riders stayed for a candlelight vigil on Saturday and returned home Sunday.

Several of the riders said they plan to do it again.

Also riding for Ottawa County were Sgt. Christie Wendt, and deputies Bart McCallum and Allison Anderson. Retired Sgt. Kevin Allman and Detective Brad Nieboer crewed the support vehicle.

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