HPD Bike Relay Team takes Manhattan, raises $280,000!

Tom Kennedy

HPD’s ever-present, enterprising and deeply-determined Bike Relay team paid sincere respects to the victims of the Charleston church tragedy, helped save the life of an Alabama accident victim and wound up a half-continent bike trek by taking over Times Square on Manhattan Island.

Oh, in the process the 42-member team raised a record $280,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society!

This year’s relay was dedicated to HPD Officer Lecinda Owens and Connie Thrash, wife of retired Sgt. Earl Thrash. It was the latest effort over the last 34 years of riding bicycle relays all over the nation to raise what now amounts to more than $5 million.

The relay team seized momentum before Mayor Annise Parker and the Houston City Council from the first minute of the sendoff ceremony on June 24. The team never let up on the way across the South to Florida and up the East Coast to Manhattan, a total of 2,200 miles.

“I do believe this was our finest ride,” Lt. Randy Upton, the team captain, said, virtually repeating what he says every year after a race.

No question the relay team gets better and better every year. In Times Square team members were greeted not only by an assistant chief rom NYPD and thousands of New Yorkers gathered in the middle of blocked-off Broadway but also their own family members.

In Charleston, South Carolina, the team presented members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church with a special, one-of-a-kind signed poster with the caption, The Heart of Houston is with You! Mayor Parker’s signature was among the hundreds on the framed poster and picture of the Space City skyline.

Bike Relay team members ride relay legs of 110 miles each through the back roads of America, always within easy access of an equipment van. Fortuitously, for one Alabama man two HPD officers manning one of those vans were in the right place at the right time.

Officers Brittney Thaler-Villa and Miresha Childs were driving the van when they “could barely see lights flashing on and off off the road in heavy brush,” according to Thaler-Villa. They followed the tracks leading off the road into a deep, water-laden ditch.

They found an elderly man there in water up to his chest and unable to free himself from under the steering wheel. His prosthetic leg had come loose. He told the officers from Houston that he had bought a hamburger from near Mobile, Alabama, and had fallen asleep at the wheel.

The officers attracted bike riders and other team members who helped clear a path through the brush to the man in his wrecked vehicle.

“I have back problems and can’t move,” he told Thaler-Villa and Childs, who promptly summoned local police and an ambulance. “They were able to get him outside the truck and on to a stretcher,” Thaler-Villa said.

“He told us, ‘I couldn’t have lasted another hour in the truck.’ ”

Thaler-Villa works Westside TACT dayshift, while Childs works days in Juvenile.

An obviously pleased Upton said other than this event off a two-lane country road in Alabama the eight-day relay event went without major incident – until, of course, the climactic moments of the trip.

Between the New Jersey Transit Authority and NYPD, he said, “all the roads were shut down and it was pretty awesome. It was like a presidential visit. They shut down Times Square and we were the center of it. The crowd applauded the officers as they came through.”

The NYPD assistant chief offered a loud congratulations and welcome to the Big Apple.

Team member families were ready for the arrival at the nation’s most glamorous intersection. All told, the bike members, their families and friends totaled 110 individuals, all of whom enjoyed Italian food at a local restaurant, compliments of the Houston Police Officers Union.

On the serious side, the bike team members had memories of Officer Owens and Connie Thrash fresh on their minds, mainly due to the fact that Connie’s husband Earl, the retired HPD sergeant, was riding on the relay team for the 28th time in its 34-year history.